Niki and the Old Mad Man


On November 5, 2014 & posted in Art, Editor's picks, Exclusive


Within the Grand Palais, the exhibition of Japanese artist Hokusai has a backdrop of a deep-maroon red with minimal use of light projected on each piece, showing the prestige of each individual artwork. There’s a sacred atmosphere amongst these traditional works. The exhibition is chronologically arranged, strategic and practical, very Japanese.

Just around the corner is the exhibition of radical French born New Yorker, Niki de Saint Phalle. Contrasting with Hokusai, Niki has a taste for rebellion and ferociously expresses “…everything. My heart, my emotions.” Driven mad by societies social positions, she refused to live a domestic role. “Painting calmed the chaos that was aggravating my soul.” It’s appropriate to be featuring the works of Hokusai and De Saint Phalle in Paris, since Hokusai was a major influence on impressionist artist, such as Monet and Degas. Niki de Saint Phalle was born near Paris. where she was most inspired and created the majority of her art.

Throughout Hokusai’s exhibition we see a vast variety of work he produced from Manga drawings to the infamous “thirty-six views of Mt.Fuiji.” He produced fifteen volumes of Manga books, that’s three thousand nine hundred drawings! This man dedicated his life to art, hence his renaming to “The old man mad about art” in 1834. As impressive as the quantity of manga drawings are, I find it too overwhelming. Observing so many line drawings turned my mind black and white. At this point I think I’ve gone delusional when really, I’m looking at Porn anyone? Erotic paintings called Shunga, literally translates to ‘spring’. Shunga is a form of Ukiyo-e. (Genre of prints including motifs of landscapes and historical tales.) Possessing Shunga art was considered a lucky charm for a samurais and house wives, (imagine if Playboy magazine was considered a lucky charm.) It served as a sexual guidance, like an instruction manual. Although there’s a lot of non-realistic positions and exaggerated genital.


“The Adonis Plant (Fukujusô)” Woodblock, set of 12, ôban ca. 1815 25.8 x 39.8 cm. Private collection.

Hokusai went beyond regular manga drawings and created comical drawings as opposed to traditional subjects. Hokusai was expelled by his schoolteacher, “what really motivates the development of my artist style was the embarrassment I suffered at Shunko’s (teacher) hands.”


The Great Wave off Kanagawa, est. 1830-1833, color woodcut, 25.7cm x 37.8


The Japanese “raft of Medusa.” Stormy weathers, rough waters, the sense of fear and despair. There are three elements, the sea, the boat and the mountain. Minimal use of color. Blue and white. Japanese ukiyo-e wood prints are not known for their light direction and perspective, but more on the subject matter; the wave mimicking the ravenous claw of mother nature. This seems to be the hot topic in both France and Japan. “Raft of Medusa” and “The great wave of Kanagawa” were painted roughly at the same time.

All in all, a dense exhibition with an elaborate variety of art work as well as some interactive projections, keeping the admirers from getting lost within the black and white lines. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it an exhilarating experience, but it’s worth the journey.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s exhibition is dark, with minimal light projecting on each artwork, provoking a dramatic aura. I was overwhelmed by the intense, bold colors and medium. Walking into the first room I see a strong influence of Jackson Pollock; Organized chaos. Giant sculptures named “Nanas” dominate the scene. The shear sizes of these sculptures are impressive standing nine meters high. Brides, Births, Prostitute, Witches and Goddess; these are the evocative titles of the sculptures. Her feministic determination provokes her to shoot some of her work with a firearm. “By shooting at myself, I was shooting at society and it’s injustice.”


Crucifixion, various objects, 1965, 236 x 147 x 61.5cm

De Saint Phalle expresses the concern of female conditions. Cut-off arms, toys on her chest, rollers in her hair and legs provocatively spread open. I felt an ironic darkness observing this sculpture. Frightened or impressed? Both. Impressed that this domineering freak of a sculpture scares the hell out of me.
To Niki de Saint Phalle I take my hat off. I leave the Grand Palais with these intricate, colossal, bold and passionate pieces embedded in my mind.

Niki De Saint Phalle, an extremely expressive feminist alongside Hokusai, the traditional Japanese master. These are two very diverse exhibitions. One would think there is nothing correlating these artists. But let’s remove culture, technique and subject matter and look at what these artists are trying to show themselves and show the world. They both pursue personal emancipation and freedom. Hokusai was obsessive over producing work; it was his form of communication. His obsession drove him to create revolutionary work. Niki was also obsessive about producing work, as it was her way of exerting her angst. Both rebels of society.




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