Magical Mosaics: San Diego Showcases Niki de Saint Phalle’s Art

Niki de Saint Phalle, a French born artist, has made a large, yet subtle splash in San Diego. During her lifetime, Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculpture work was displayed in countless museums around the world including Japan.

Niki de Saint Phalle San Diego
PHOTO AMANDA PURCELL

Even a documentary film was made about her life and work entitled: Who is the Monster? You or Me?  Niki de Saint Phalle’s amazing sculpture career had already taken off by the time she moved to La Jolla in 1994 and only continued to grow during her stay in San Diego. In San Diego, however, she remains well-known for her mosaic sculptures which also serve as a playground for children.

Niki de Saint Phalle San Diego
PHOTO AMANDA PURCELL

The City of Escondido in San Diego allowed her to build a sculpture garden in Kit Carson Park. Niki de Saint Phalle created and designed her first American garden in this Park: Queen Califia’s Magical Circle. The garden is based largely on the artist’s interpretation of California’s mythic culture and Native American culture. A massive mosaic snake wall is the perimeter of the garden while the center of the garden houses the enormous Queen Califia sculpture. This centered sculpture is eleven feet tall and represents female power because the Queen is adorned in gold glass armor.  This mosaic figure is also standing on top of a huge and colorful eagle in a strong stance. Moreover, many sculptures in Niki de Saint Phalle’s garden represent the life cycle — birth, death, and metamorphosis.

Queen Califia’s Magic Circle contains eight large totem pole sculptures. Saint Phalle’s work often incorporates Native American imagery and mythology within her totemic structures. A large misinterpretation of totem poles involves the idiom “low man on the totem pole.” This colloquial phrase is often interpreted as someone who is not high up or important in ranking. However, in Native American culture, the “low man on the totem pole” is sometimes the most important figure on the totem pole. Niki de Saint Phalle created totem poles with mother type figures on the bottom to symbolize feminine strength, including a maternal totem displayed at a museum in San Diego.

Niki de Saint Phalle San Diego
PHOTO AMANDA PURCELL

Some of her mosaic structures are also exhibited on the front lawn of the California Center For the Arts Escondido.  These structures are built for children to crawl through or for kids to sit on the beautiful glass, stone, and ceramic tile.  One of the four structures outside of the California Center For the Arts Escondido is a lager-than-life cat. Anyone is able to sit on a bench inside of the sculpted cat’s belly and appreciate Saint Phalle’s artistic imagination.  Additionally, Niki de Saint Phalle’s work is displayed in Balboa Park also in San Diego. The Park houses a few whimsical animal structures that children can climb upon.

There is an incredible amount of Niki de Saint Phalle’s work available in San Diego. Despite her prominence, many individuals do not realize how much of her art is available to the public. Her fantastical visions are realized everyday as children play upon and along her magnificent sculptures. San Diego is certainly more beautiful because of her lasting work.

Niki de Saint Phalle San Diego
PHOTO AMANDA PURCELL

Amanda Purcell

Amanda has traveled throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. Her secret travel tip: visit places during off season. She loves walking around cities that she's never been to before, especially if she can't speak the local language.

Jetset Times in your inbox

Sign-up for our newsletter

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy and European users agree to the data transfer policy.