Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Saint Phalle, Niki de - VM - Koos Sluiter

Niki de Saint Phalle: The Tree of Life


by Koos Sluiter

Participants of a psychological personality test are sometimes asked to draw a tree. Such a tree shows as a kind of mirror who they are. We can also see this with trees: the shape of the leaf mirrors the shape of the whole tree.

This lithograph of the tree of life by Niki de Saint Phalle (1930, France –2002, USA) dates from 1987. Niki’s mother was French, her father American. The family moved to America in 1933. Her father abused her, she entered a convent, married when she was 19 and had two children. In 1951 she left her family and returned to Paris, where she met the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, with whom she worked closely when she set out on an artistic path. They married in 1971. 

Niki is a self-taught artist; many people know her colourful, life-sized polyester female figures, the Nanas. Her magnum opus is the Tarot Garden in Tuscany, a statue park inspired by the 22 playing cards that together form the Greater Mysteries of the Tarot game, which is said to predict life’s fortunes. 

The black and white side of the tree summarises the negative and difficult aspects of life, such as death, nothingness, hatred, intolerance, disease, hunger, and evil. The opposite side is in colour, with words like love, God, life, the dance, health, bread, wine, children, colours, and flowers. Too many to enumerate. You do not desire to give or receive the aspects on the one side; but you do desire the ones on the other side. In the heart of the tree sits a Dryad, a tree nymph, the soul of the tree. In this one tree print Niki is as eloquently present as in her complete park.

In the Bible the tree symbolism is abundantly present from Genesis to Revelation, always with the question of what kind of tree you want to be. In the middle is Psalm 1, describing a tree as a mirror for humankind: 

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in season
And whose leaf does not whither.
Whatever he does prospers.


Niki de Saint Phalle: l’Arbre de la vie (The Tree of Life), 1987, lithograph, 48 x 63 cm.

Niki de Saint Phalle (29.10.1930, Neuilly-sur- Seine near Paris – 21.5.2002, San Diego, U.S.A.) was a French-American sculptor, painter, and filmmaker. Widely noted as one of the few female monumental sculptors, Saint Phalle was also known for her social commitment. Read more

Koos Sluiter, born in 1946 in Emmen in The Netherlands, was a preacher from 1970 and retired in 2011. He devotes himself to exploring the interface between faith and art, organising courses and presentations, see

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