Most days, I walk past the Gallery of Modern Art, on Royal Exchange Square, in the heart of Glasgow. The GOMA building was originally a library, but since 1996, it has been a gallery. Each time I pass the building, I always notice the beautiful glass mosaic made by Niki de Saint Phalle that glitters on the exterior, triangular pediment of the building, which changes with the movement and color of the (admittedly mostly gray) sky, the light of buildings opposite, and the shadow of the traffic below. It sparkles like a jewel, always makes me happy and reminds me of the beautiful, passionate art of Niki de Saint Phalle.
The daughter of an aristocratic French banker and an American mother, De Saint Phalle was educated in America, where she first showed an interest in art by painting the fig leaves red on the statues at her school—it was an early sign of her desire to rebel against bourgeois conventions. In her late teens she began a modeling career and was featured on the cover of several fashion magazines. Having eloped with her childhood sweetheart, the writer Harry Matthews, de Saint Phalle gave birth to a daughter in 1951. However, she soon found marital bliss to be stifling, and perhaps also suffering from post-natal depression, the young mother had a nervous breakdown.
As part of her recuperation, de Saint Phalle was encouraged to take up painting. She was taught and influenced by the painter Hugh Weiss. After the birth of her second child in Spain in 1955, de Saint Phalle continued to work at her painting, leading to her first exhibition in 1956.
Niki de Saint Phalle believed she was condemned to reveal “every emotion, thought and experience” in her work.
“Everything is used. My time, great joys, tragedies and pains—it’s all my life, nothing is secret.
The documentary Niki de Saint Phalle: Introspections and Reflections examines the life and art of the artist, from her earliest paintings, through her performance and film work, to her iconic sculptures, which all made Niki de Saint Phalle one of the best known artists of the twentieth century.