Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 – 2002) was a French-American sculptor, painter, and filmmaker. She was one of the few women artists widely known for monumental sculpture. During her late teenage years, Saint Phalle became a fashion model; at the age of 18, she appeared on the cover of Life (26 September 1949) and, three years later, on the November 1952 cover of French Vogue. She also appeared in the pages of Elle and Harper's Bazaar.
Niki de Saint-Phalle taught herself painting and rose to artistic prominence through her colorful monumental outdoor sculptures of extravagantly voluptuous female figures. She associated freely with many other contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, writers, and composers. For several decades, she worked closely with Swiss kinetic artist Jean Tinguely, who became her second husband.
She first received world-wide attention for angry, violent assemblages which had been shot by firearms. Her first staged public shooting event was in February 1961, attended by Jean Tinguely, Daniel Spoerri, and Pierre Restany, among others. As founder of the Nouveau réalisme ("New Realist") movement, Restany asked Saint Phalle to join this group of French artists upon seeing her performance; she was the only female member of this group.
Saint Phalle next explored the various roles of women, in what would develop into her best-known and most prolific series of sculptures that she called Nanas, after a French slang word that is roughly equivalent to "broad", or "chick". She started making life-size dolls of women, such as brides and mothers giving birth, monsters, and large heads. Initially, they were made of soft materials, such as wool, cloth, and papier-mâché, but they soon evolved into plaster over a wire framework and plastic toys, some painted all white.
In her later years, she suffered from multiple chronic health problems attributed to repeated exposure to glass fibers and petrochemical fumes from the experimental materials she had used in her pioneering artworks, but she continued to create prolifically until the end of her life. Niki de Saint Phalle died May 21, 2002 in La Jolla, CA at the age of 71.