the art of ballOOn-painting

by uwe kurz

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002)


Niki de Saint PhalleThe French sculptor and painter was born in 1930 in Neuilly sur Seine near Paris. Her parents go to New York in 1933, from where she returns to France in 1951. The first assemblages are created in 1956. In St.Gallen/Switzerland she exhibits her artwork for the first time in a single exhibition. Starting up in 1961 she organizes happenings in cooperation with her husband Tinguely and begins to produce her »shooting paintings«.
    She comes into contact with the group »Nouveaux Réalistes« in Paris. In New York she participates in the exhibition »The art of assemblage« in the Museum of Modern Art. In 1964 she begins to model her well-known brightcoloured and voluminous »Nana«-plastics. Installation of an enormous woman sculpture (»Hon«), which could be entered by the visitors  in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1966 (destructed after the exhibition) and arrangement of further »sculpture houses«. In 1967 follows a single exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam/Netherlands.
    In 1968 she takes part in the exhibition »Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage« in the New York Museum of Modern Art. A further single exhibition takes place in 1976 in the Museum Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam/Netherlands. In 1979 she begins with the construction of the sculpture park »Tarot-garden« (Giardino dei Tarocchi) in Garavicchio near Grosseto/Italy. Together with her husband she carries out »La Fontaine Strawinsky« in Paris. In 1988 she participates in the Biennale of Venice/Italy. In 1993 a further single exhibition takes place in the Musée d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
A huge donation of Niki's work to the Sprengel Museum in Hannover/Germany in 2000 and the donation to the MAMAC in Nice in 2002 should be mentioned.
Niki de Saint Phalle died after a long serious illness in May 2002 in San Diego (USA) as a result of the unprotected work with her prefered material Polyester lasting for years.


Uwe Kurz


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On shooting paintings


Niki de Saint Phalle, who became known through her bright-coloured »Nana«-plastics, reported on the individual phases of her artistic work in form of letters, which she addressed in each case to a friend, but she did not send any of them.
The letter, in which she wrote about her shooting pictures (TIR), was addressed to her early promoter Pontus Hulten, at that time director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm:

Dear Pontus, you asked me for the shooting pictures. One day, in spring 1961, I visited the exhibition >Comparaisons< in Paris. One of my reliefs hung in the exhibition. It was called >Portrait of my Lover<. As a man´s head it had a target, a shirt and a tie were sticked on a black painted background. Some arrows were situated on a desk, to be thrown on the man by the visitors (...) not very far away from my work hung a perfectly white gypsum relief (...), which would be, if the picture would bleed - would be wounded, as humans could be hurt? In my mind the picture became a person with feelings. What would be, if under the surface of the gypsum would be some colour? I told Jean Tinguely of this vision and of my desire to let a picture bleed by shooting at it.

Niki and her husband hammered nails into an old board, so that the gypsum would have a better adhesion on it, and beside a lot of scrap iron and waste they attached some colour-filled plastic bags. Then they shot at it.

I began to use spray cans with colour in such a way, to get some particularly refined effects if they were met by the bullets. Quite as the pictures of the abstract expressionists, which were developed at the time.

Niki de Saint Phalle was herself quite conscious of the aggressive acts, even if they were only meant symbolically. At the same time the shooting phase was an expression of the process of releasing from standards, which she had to obtain in a solid middle-class home and in a monastery school.

The picture was the victim. Who was the picture? Daddy? All men? Small men? Long men? Large men? Greases men? Men? My brother John? Or myself? (...) I shot at me. I shot at the society with their unfairness. I shot at my own act of violence and the violence of the time. By shooting at my own force, I did not need to drag her longer with me like a load. Whithin the years, in which I shot, I was not ill for one day. It was a great therapy for me!

reference: E. Bruegel: Praxis Kunst Zufallsverfahren, Hannover (Schroedel), 2000
translated by Uwe Kurz

thanks to Jana!

Niki's official website


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