Born at Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1930, the painter and sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle grew up in New York. At 18 she eloped with writer and childhood friend Harry Matthews, and they had two children together. Niki didn’t fit the domesticated wife mould, and after a nervous breakdown she started painting as therapy. In 1960 Niki left her husband and children to devote herself to her art. She lived with sculptor Jean Tinguely, and became a member of the Paris group of artists the ‘Nouveaux Réalistes’.
In their group exhibition Niki presented her ‘shooting’ paintings for the first time. She filled polythene bags with paint and enclosed them within plaster on a board backing.
She, or spectators, then shot at the painting, releasing the paint in random explosions of colour.
From 1964 came her monumental goddess sculptures, the Nanas (‘nana’ is French for ‘chick’). The buxom, colorful female figures, inspired by a friend’s pregnancy, and first made of yarn, paper-maché and wire and later made of polyester, represent happy, freed women and harbingers of a new matriarchal age.
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