By Laura P. Valtorta
Our trip to the Tarot Garden in Capalbio, Italy reinforced the idea that art inspires art. Looking at modern art, and the huge, colorful, fantastic sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle, helped me to write better.
Before visiting the Tarot Garden, it was important to read the sweet, chaotic, horrible story of Niki’s life. A recent article in The New Yorker allowed us to do that.
The giant tarot sculptures built by Niki and her friends and the people of Capalbio emphasized the sadness and the chaotic nature of life and love. “Death” is one of the most beautiful sculptures. Another is “Justice” with an accompanying sculpture by Jean Tiguely, Niki’s second husband, inside.
Before building the garden, Niki had abandoned her young children to their father (the writer Henry Matthews) and spent time in an insane asylum. After her six-week stay in the asylum, Niki turned to art as a way to protest the conventions imposed by society on women. She was a performance artist and a successful sculptor. Her art is displayed throughout the world and in Paris in front of the Centre Georges Pompidou.
The sculptures in the Tarot Garden are made of ceramic and mirror tiles, reinforced by steel and cement. Niki lived alone inside the Empress for many years while building the 14-acre garden.
The poignancy of this garden comes from knowing about Niki’s sad, messy, creative life and seeing the joy she infused in the gigantic sculptures. On the side of the Impicciato sculpture is a love story in tiles with drawings that illustrate the first meeting, desire, love letters, breaking up, and remaining friends.
Any artist – writer, painter, sculptor, or musician – can benefit from walking through Niki’s garden. It took her seventeen years to create and shows how steadfast her passion for beauty was. The depth of emotion is what makes this garden meaningful.