Staring at the truth

By | Art & Design
A collage of Keane's paintings. credit@Aj Stephens via flickr

In 1946 a young American male Walter Keane was in Berlin learning to paint. Through charm, wit and persona he later married a lady named Margaret, also an ‘artist’. Margaret was a natural and adored to paint. She painted numerous pictures and portraits with one factor in common; the big eyes. The eyes were enhanced upon paintings of dogs, cats, tigers and even children. However, it was the latter of the list that received the most attention and admiration as the public showed a large interest as to why the children may far from always been smiling and wanted to discover more about their background.

Margaret however, soon became merely a spectator amongst the entire goings on as she then began witnessing her husband Walter submitting the ‘big eyed’ art as his own whilst gaining all of the credit and fame. Upon realisation she confronted him. His responses seemed legitimate as he said ‘More people are likely to buy the painting’s if the artist is male’  which partly displays the gradual productive change in society over time.

So for the next few years Margaret created the pictures whilst Walter sold them and gained the income, fame and status.

Some of the paintings took a more satirical direction and personified dogs and other animals appearing as though poker and pool players. However, the majority of Keane’s work consisted of young girls and boys participating in various age suited activities such as dressing up with a mask in one hand, sitting on a beach surrounded by toys and placed in and amongst safari animals. The juxtaposition between the innocence and the contrasting eyes and facial expressions caused great interest, resulting in a large amount of printed merchandise such as postcards, plates and even towels. By this point in South California, Walter was well known across America and lived as though royalty.

Finally, after ten years of marriage, Margaret Keane then later separated and rebuilt her own independent life. She decided to make it public that Walter had been living under a false pretence and passed the matter into the more superior hands of the justice system. Their response was for both candidates to paint a big eyed picture in the presence of witnesses, so the female Keane created yet another picture in just 53 minutes whilst Walter was unable to comply due to a shoulder ache. Following this event, Margaret’s talent was made apparent and she began painting her own unique big eyed images. To the public this gained a huge amount of interest as it reflected such an individual story that it made numerous news titles.

Tim Burton, director of many films such as The Nightmare before Christmas, Edward Scissor Hands, Beetle Juice and The Corpse Bride, has recently decided to convey the ‘Big eye’ story and create his own film as accurate to the situation as possible. From doing so, it has encouraged the public to revisit the Keane artwork event and has given Margaret the recognition that she finally deserves.

Which productive factors have the Keane painting’s brought to the art industry and how?

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