Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Queen Califia's Magical Circle

During my California trip in March, 2009, I visited an absolutely amazing art environment in Kit Carson Park in Escondido. It's called Queen Califia's Magical Circle. Opened to the public in 2003, this is the last major international work designed by sculptor and mosaic artist Niki de Saint Phalle.

The Magical Circle is about 90 feet in diameter and every inch is covered in mosaic. Materials include iridescent glass, pebbles, slices of agate, ceramic tiles, and semi-precious stones. The substructure consists of steel and polystyrene foam covered in fiberglass.

The walled circle has gigantic mosaic snakes around the perimeter. You enter the sculpture garden via a walled maze of black, white, and mirrored tiles. You exit the maze into a courtyard containing several totem-pole like sculptures. In the very center of the circle is a giant bird that you can walk under. In the space under the giant bird is a golden egg. On top of the bird stands Queen Califia, holding a small bird in her hand.

Niki named the installation after a legendary black Amazon queen who ruled over the mythical island of California. The roots of this legend date back to a Spanish novel written in 1510. Some people think that California (the U.S. state) was named after this legend.

Before she got into mosaic, Niki made a splash in the international art world with her "shooting paintings." She would embed full paint cans in plaster sculptures, put a blank canvas behind them and shoot the sculptures with a gun, splattering the paint on the canvas.

When visiting Barcelona, she was profoundly influenced by the work of Antoni Gaudi's Guell Park. This experience launched her into the world of mosaic.

Her largest work, the Tarot Garden, took 20 years to build and was completed in 1998. The Tarot Garden is in Italy but, in the U.S., the San Diego area has several of her works on display. Queen Califia's Magical Circle is the largest and most spectacular of her artworks in the United States. See more photos.

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