Sometimes the mission of an art piece is to make us question what exactly it is that we see. The artist Niki de Saint Phalle does this with her artwork, "Arbre de Serpents (Serpent Tree)." By uniting the swift, flickering motion of a serpent with the stillness of a tree, the end result is something both alive and frozen. Located in Waterfront Park, the rainbow-colored snake dances in the silence. The multi-headed "Serpent Tree" is constructed out of pieces of polyester, stained glass, and mirror shards. Made in 1988, this modern mosaic has continued to stand on its own, shining out in a unique radiance.
Saint Phalle experienced a rough childhood and used her art as a means to escape from the trauma of the past. She viewed herself and her artworks as "color, joy, abundance," seen firsthand in the "Arbre de Serpents." The iridescent colors of the snake shined forth from Saint Phalle's own soul. Her inspiration for this piece comes from myths in history which represent, in her mind, the idea of femininity as the snake. Saint Phalle unites the archetypal with artistic design, adding her own flair to the works of legend. Niki de Saint Phalle was born in 1930 and died in 2001, roughly thirteen years after this work was completed. Saint Phalle was a French artist, sculptor, and painter who became renowned for her sculpture making.
Born near Paris, she traveled across the world. One of her many accomplishments was joining the New Realist art movement in Europe, where she became its only female member. Her works were as free-spirited as she was, carrying her wanderlust across the globe. Her "Arbre de Serpents" was never contained only to San Diego; it has been featured and displayed in places such as New York, Illinois, and France. However, every "Serpent Tree" is unique; no two are the same. Make sure you stop by to see one of the last remaining works of this great artist.
Cover Image: "Arbre aux serpents - Nikki de Saint Phalle" by Julien Chatelain via Flickr.