THE TAROT GARDEN OF NIKI DE SAINT PHALLE
Hello! This is my first official post and I would like to dedicate it to another artist, that inspired me on so many levels, at times when I was not even aware. I have written the following on September 2006. I decided to post this “as is”.
Niki De Saint Phalle built her extraordinary Tarot Garden in the most south region of Tuscany, near Capalbio, Grossetto, on a hill among trees and bushes. She worked on it for about twenty years, and many friends and artists collaborated to turn her vision into reality. The Tarot Garden is based on the 22 Trump cards of the Major Arcana of the Tarot. As one walks through the Garden he meets all the major players, archetypes and symbols to life’s laws, mysteries and complexities. Some are represented through sculptures and monuments and some through architectural constructions, or walk-in sculptures.
I finally came to see your Garden. The Garden of Tarot. The Garden I have read so much about. The Garden that connects so many of our shared points.
The first time I ever heard of you was in design college, in 1992, where we, the students, had to choose an artist’s work as inspiration and create a piece of art of our own, as a homage. I don’t even remember who was my own chosen artist, or what was my creation – I just remember my friend’s choice, and her piece that looked very similar to one of your Nanas – your artistic interpretation of the everywoman.
Not long after, I bought two of your books, filled with your art which magnetized me with a strange and unusual kind of power. I felt as if we spoke a similar language, one full of vibrant colors, details and self humor.
Do I know you? With you I feel most strongly that bond of everywoman, sharing similar or parallel paths, experiencing the same intensity in our doings.
I have read in your biography, that you are a Scorpio, of course. A Scorpio that is very aware and proud of being one, just like me. You sensed the transformation that you needed to undergo, and the ways to achieve it through your art. You too, experienced many deaths and rebirths. You did not find your path easily, your life not one to sum up in just one paragraph.
They say you used to be a model, so pretty and slender with huge animated eyes. Yet your face, merely speaks as much as your art. Where did you find your colors Niki de Saint Phalle? One could wonder, but I know exactly where you did! They were just in you! Encrypted in every cell of your body, is a different shade of the most vivid reds, oranges, blues, greens, golds… You are a master of the primary world, the colors that are most raw and intense. Intense people paint in intense colors. You have this uncanny sense to tell your tales, both happy and tragic ones, dressed in the abundance of color. You are not afraid of the extravagance of your palette, yet you don’t use it as a disguise. This is our language, this is how we communicate our messages, through a blast of convincing happiness. It’s not even a matter of taste or style – it’s a necessity.
We drove for so long, that it seemed as far as the end of the world. My beloved husband – the usual driver – had much tolerance to take me all the way. We had the feeling that we will be the only visitors, but when we arrived, the parking lot was full. I was so happy to see that! People make the effort, after all. Niki de Saint Phalle – your universal conversations have gone a long way and bring you visitors from all over the world. Magic waits as you start the quest.
In 2001 I took a one-week trip to Paris. I was alone. Till today, this is maybe one of my best vacations. I saw your fountain near the Pompidou Centre. I sat at the most expensive cafe, just because it was facing the fountain, and had the best cappuccino of my life.
Looking at your work bounded together with the work of Jean Tinguely, was true inspiration for art and relationships. You dared to share while your individuality was not affected at all. Your colorful, rounded statues looked even better next to his iron kinetic machines. You complemented each other. You created the same fusion I have secretly dreamed that existed. You gave me hope. You made me take a small green sketchbook out of my travel bag, and start being myself.
We walked through the simple yet magnificent entrance designed by Mario Botta and climbed a bit up the hill, where some colorful events already started peaking. By the time we reached the small pond with the Wheel of Fortune inside it, and the Magician and High Priestess just above it, I realized that every thing I have seen in the pictures did not even start to describe this amazing achievement. No justice is done for you in the pictures, Niki.
I did not stay there enough. I did not photograph enough…
There was not one corner that you did not take care of, Niki de Saint Phalle. Some might think you were obsessive, overdoing things. But I know better. I see your heart and passion in every piece of mosaic and mirror. It’s not compulsion, but the intensity of your soul. It’s your way to control the new universe you build with your hands.
I had a silent hysterical laugh, when I entered The Empress. Amazing how from the outside she looks like Sphinx, with a dark face, and perhaps hidden claws. I can already see how you experienced your mother. But then, like all of us, you went just right back to her, asking to be hugged and made her your home. What can be more symbolic, than choosing one breast as your kitchen, and the other as your bedroom? You created for yourself the ideal nourishment. You first recreated your own Ideal Mother, and then returned to her womb, where you took your strength from, to eventually complete your Garden of Tarots. You covered all the interior walls with little pieces of mirror. You allowed inner reflection, while you could not really see yourself in the mirror. The kitchen was covered in mirror so well, that it was completely pointless trying to photograph it.
I have seen your Fool in photographs before, but had not fallen in love with him –till I met him in person. Colorful thick vertical and horizontal wires created the limits of his hollow, non-existing body. I immediately saw in my imagination the subway map of New York City. Yes, I know you have been living there for a while, just like me. Yellow for the N & R train, green for the 4, 5, & 6, red for the 1 & 9. Is it a coincidence that The Fool embodies the signs of frequent traveling? The limits of the unlimited? One can look-through his body. Abstract shapes, your colors, the background view of Tuscan green, intertwined, creating a new landscape. This is when anything can start to begin… The destination may be unknown, but the adventure is certain. You already carry your future experiences within you…
I was surprised by your Devil and awed by your Death. For some of the Archetypes you created huge monuments, real buildings where one can enter and live there, while for some you offered a smaller in size attribute. Your Devil was just a statue. How did you not create a whole world for him Niki de Saint Phalle? How there was no Hell to visit in your garden? Is it superstition? Were you afraid from the Devil, you were better off without his Palace? Or, for you the strength lays in hiding him, alone, behind some bushes, and let the visitors enter their moment of challenge in private?
Your Death, so powerful, seeming so different from each and every angle you look at him. Like a ghost rider wrapped in royal blue, cutting through the woods with determination, or a frame caught with a camera, in a very chosen and specific motionless moment. His multi-colorful victims all dead next to his feet due to his passing, leaving no questions unanswered, and yet, I wonder; are you taking us to a festival or to heaven, Niki?
I could bathe myself on the pond, if that was allowed. Many people threw coins in it, for luck The Wheel of Fortune, obviously made by Jean, generated lively sprinkles, and above all that was a little bit scary High Priestess and above her a mirror covered, funny Magician, who reminded me of the fictional presenter of a comedy show. Here you definitely pushed and tested the collective imagination, dear artist. You made me feel differently about The High Priestess, the one who embodies intuitive feminine power, as if you were more connected to her than me, understood her wisdom and power better. Did you fear this power? Did you ever fear this power within you?
It was all up to you, Niki De Saint Phalle, and you invited all the forces and mysteries to participate. You created your own Council out of the Archetypes of the Tarot ,and you my dear artist, danced among them and inside them, teased them, laughed and cried, debated, stood right in front of them all, sweating, while your back hurt, and your fingers were dirty with mud and pigments for some time.
I walked on the path where you named and numbered every step and tile, but I also walked through your vision, your dream and extraordinary accomplishment. I will take with me the colorful impressions, the sensual shapes, the idea that a dream can become a reality just as it can remain a dream forever.The Tarot Garden:
Giardino dei Tarocchi, Capalbio, Provincia di Grossetto, Tel 39 564 89 51 22