French painter and sculptor Niki de Saint-Phalle, born Catherine-Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle ( 1930– 2002) was an extraordinary personality who rejected the bourgeoise values of her wealthy family background of Neuilly, France. As young as 16 she made the cover story of Life Magazine and four years later of Vogue as a model.
Her training was self taught and she was encouraged first by the American painter Hugh Weiss , later by the work of Antonio Gaudí and eventually by Swiss painter Jean Tinguely whom she finally married in 1971.
After meeting up with Tinguely, Marcel Duchamp introduced the pair to the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. De Saint Phalle later traveled to Spain with Tinguely in order to attend a celebration honoring Dalí. In 1961, she became known around the world for her Shooting paintings (below right) consisting of a wooden base board on which containers of paint were laid, then covered with plaster. The painting was then raised and de Saint Phalle would shoot at it with a .22 caliber rifle. The bullets penetrated paint containers which spilled their contents over the painting. During the 1960s, she also designed decors and costumes for two theatrical productions: a ballet by Roland Petit, and an adaptation of the Aristophanes play "Lysistrata."
Influenced by Gaudí´s Parc Güell in Barcelona, and the garden in Bomarzo, Saint Phalle decided that she wanted to make something similar; a monumental sculpture park created by a woman. In 1979, she acquired some land in Tuscany . The garden, called Giardino dei Tarocchi in Italian, contains sculptures of the symbols found on Tarot cards. The garden took many years, and a considerable sum of money, to complete. It opened in 1998, after more than 20 years of work.
Her works do not reach very high prices because they has always been very controversial and some say ugly. I disagree and consider that the Saint Phalle was a very inovative artist and her work is original, colourful and flamboyant. She was a woman of high charism and considerable stamina who was afraid of nothing and nobody.
This Nana et Chien (Nana and Dog)(1) is a painted polyester measuring 16 1/8in. (41cm.) in hight and executed in 1986 : this work is number one from an edition of ten and reached $43,000 in an auction sale by Christie's in London in October 2004.
NB : (1) The French word Nana is a slang word used to refer to a woman, generally in a slightly pejorative way