Catherine Marie Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle, better known as Niki de Saint Phalle, was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1930. She spent her childhood in the United States, notably New York, where her parents were based. In 1950, she married Harry Matthews. Self-taught, her work is based on her feelings and experiences. Very early on, fantastic creatures appeared, populating a colourful universe, at once joyful and disturbing. She gradually inserted stones, coffee beans or found objects into her paintings. She greatly admired Antonio Gaudi and Le Palais Idéal (The Ideal Palace) of the Facteur Cheval. She met Jean Tinguely in Paris in 1956 and moved into his studio on Impasse Ronsin in 1960. They married in 1971.
Sharing a taste for provocation, Niki de Saint Phalle compared their couple to Bonnie and Clyde. Their artistic collaboration was based on the opposition between masculinity on the one hand and maternalization and feminism on the other. In her mind, this conflict leads to a harmony and complementarity similar to yin and yang. Both of them explored a participative works. In 1961, she created the relief-target Portrait of My Lover, which the public was invited to disfigure with darts. This was followed by plaster-relief paintings, in which bags of liquid colours or edibles (eggs, tomatoes, etc.) were hidden, to then be burst by shots from a rifle or revolver, thereby revealing the work. This performance series of Tirs (Shots) gave rise to numerous happenings.
Her collaboration with Jean Tinguely became increasingly important with each new project. In 1966, he helped her create the monumental Hon sculpture at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, then directed by Pontus Hultén. This gigantic Nana, a colourful female character dear to Niki de Saint Phalle, was twenty-eight meters in length, lying on her back. Visitors entered the sculpture through the vagina, to discover inside, among other things, a milk bar and radio-sculptures by Jean Tinguely. A year later, they together created Le Jardin Fantastique (The Fantastic Garden) for the Montreal World Fair, combining Jean Tinguely's scrap-metal machines and Niki de Saint Phalle's smooth colourful Nanas.
These projects undoubtedly influenced their path towards Le Cyclop. Niki de Saint Phalle was an unwavering supporter of Jean Tinguely from the very beginning. She helped finance the project by selling sculptures and she also designed several works for Le Cyclop, including La Face aux miroirs (The Face of Mirrors). From 1978 onwards, Jean Tinguely in turn assisted Niki de Saint Phalle pursue her dream of creating the Giardino dei Tarocchi (The Tarot Garden) in Tuscany.
Subsequent to Jean Tinguely's health problems and the increasing number of acts of vandalism targeting Le Cyclop, Niki de Saint Phalle became particularly involved in the project of donating the work to the French state, in exchange for its assuming the site’s maintenance and protection. Following Jean Tinguely's death in 1991, she completed the project in accordance with his wishes. Le Cyclop was officially inaugurated in 1994 and she then decided it was complete, allowing no more elements to be added. She moved to California that same year and pursued numerous projects and art installations up until her death in 2002. The Niki Charitable Art Foundation, directed by her granddaughter Bloum Cardenas, manages all of her works.
A complete biography of the artist is available on the website for the Niki Charitable Art Foundation.