Review: Addiction, war and a mysterious picture in a gallery


Addiction and War are two vital topics in a modern society. I found it fascinating that one painting in a gallery could sum up these two topics so brilliantly.

Some time ago when I visited Tate Modern, I came across a painting which has had a lasting impression on me…
 The ‘’Shooting Picture” by Niki de Sainte Phalle (1961) talks about a violence of war and how people can get addicted to it, just like drug and alcohol addictions. Even though from the outside it doesn’t seem to have any particular subject, the artist says that her main intention for the work was to put an emphasis on violence. She described her emotional response when making the artwork as “having become addicted to shooting, like one becomes addicted to a drug”.

Niki de Saint Phalle ‘Shooting Picture’, 1961
© The estate of Niki de Saint Phalle


It was produced during one of the events which the painter organised, they were held as a part of the February 1961 exhibition at the Musee d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, called ‘’Comparaison’’. A group of other artists were invited to shoot at plastic bags, which would release paint from them. This one was shot by artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. The work, I believe, belongs to the Nouveaux Realistes movement as it uses collage and assemblage as well as painting and incorporates found objects. When you first look at the ‘Shooting Picture’, you notice its richness of texture formed from plaster. Its irregularity can be confusing yet mesmerising,  its  merged vibrant colours of paint, which seem to be frozen in time mid-drip. Thickly applied plaster loosens the continuity of lines made by the dripping paint and softens the sharpness of those lines but at the same time it adds some kind of violence, roughness to the work. There is a contrast between straight lines and circular shapes made by plaster and the plastic bags beneath it.

The work is two dimensional and has an elongated shape, as if strangely echoing the body of the onlooker standing in front of it. It is non figurative and composed of the abstract shapes and marks of different sizes. Vibrancy of reds, greens and yellows adds an energy juxtaposing the stillness of the abstract shapes. Marks of the thick solid plaster coming into your space, give the feeling of heaviness to the work, which makes you feel like you’re being ‘sucked in’. It has a very decorative feel, which adds confusion to the seriousness of it and also raises the question, whether there is one? 

The artist mentions a violent gesture and addiction to shooting without saying anything. In my opinion, the artist wants the audience to take something personal with them out of looking at the work. For me this painting immediately relates to war and I would associate it with the inner dark instincts of humanity being described by a theatre practitioner Antonin Artaud in the Theatre of Cruelty. Even though the artist is evidently quite open about what she wants her audience to understand the work must have had some connections to her life experiences.


Photo Credit: Shigeako via Compfight cc

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BA Sculpture student at Camberwell College of Arts,London. I am passionate about writing and in particular interested in the connection between modern art and technology,new groundbreaking projects.

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