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Preview: Niki de Saint Phalle, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool

A celebration that's larger than life

The Franco-American painter and sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) – best known for her brightly coloured Fontaine Stravinsky works outside the Pompidou Centre in Paris – created a series of works called the Shooting Pictures between 1961 and 1963. They explored the idea of the violent gesture in abstract art, and the artist became obsessed with them.

It began with Portrait of My Lover (1961), in which the head has been replaced by a target studded with darts. She then embedded pockets filled with paint and foodstuffs within a thick layer of plaster on canvas, and would shoot at them with a rifle, in order to make the paintings "bleed". She gave it up in 1963, saying: "I had become addicted to shooting, like one becomes addicted to a drug."

Kyla McDonald, co-curator of the forthcoming exhibition on the artist at Tate Liverpool, explains: "As well as creating these paintings, which she regarded as creativity born from destruction, De Saint Phalle made homages to artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, who would then shoot at these works themselves."

This is the first large-scale exhibition in the UK to show work spanning the artist's entire career. She began by producing decorative, densely covered paintings in the early Fifties, progressing to creating Assemblages, made up of objects such as knives, scissors, nails and blades embedded in plaster bas-relief.

In the mid-Sixties, she was making "altars" – large sculptures at which she would again shoot, progressing to her Bride sculptures – white papier mâché sculptures of women – and her Nanas (large, brightly coloured sculptures of women). The latter included a 28m-long version, Hon, which visitors could enter between the woman's legs. It was later destroyed.

The exhibition also features De Saint Phalle's late work Il Giardino dei Tarocchi, sculptures based on the 22-card Tarot pack, which normally reside in Tuscany.

1 February to 5 May (0151-702 7400; www.tate.org.uk/liverpool)