A self-taught artist, Saint Phalle first came to critical attention through her work with the Nouveau Réalisme group and her Shooting Paintings. Part performance, part painting, the viewer was invited to shoot the surface of the work in order to burst the pockets of paint held within.
Having struggled with the entrapments of her own roles as daughter, mother and wife, Saint Phalle soon began to create her iconic Nana figures; colourful, voluptuous celebrations of the female form. These goddess-like creatures continued to be a key mode of expression for Saint Phalle throughout her life, and echoed modern feminism’s efforts to reconsider and revalue the woman’s body.
After moving to California in 1994, Saint Phalle began to paint less, increasingly working with sculpture and mosaic techniques. As shown in Buddha, she used mirror, glass and stone to create vivacious, glittering sculptures on a monumental scale.
Upon visiting Barcelona in the 1950s, St Phalle was greatly touched by Antoni Gaudí’s work, in particular his Park Güell: ‘I met both my master and my destiny…I knew that I was meant one day to build my own garden of joy’. This visit inspired the creation of her own sculpture park in Tuscany, The Tarot Garden, which took over 20 years to create and opened to the public in 1998.
Saint Phalle created many public works including the vibrant La Fontaine Stravinsky near The Pompidou Centre, Paris. Created in 1983 with her second husband the Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, the fountain is inspired by the music of composer Igor Stravinsky.