If you remember any part of the Sixties, you’ll remember these. Even if you are younger, you must have run into one of the Big Eyes paintings at various garage sales. Big Eyed Kid paintings used to be everywhere. Along with Big Eyed Cats and Big Eyed Dogs. There may even have been some Big Eyed Clowns. (Or that might have just been one of my nightmares.) I remember one in a neighbor’s garage that showed Big Eyed Kids staring through the barbed wire from a concentration camp. That really freaked me out. For Christmas one year, someone gave me a Big Eyed Kid paint-by-numbers. On black velvet. Which must have been some sort of Pop Culture Kitsch Vortex.
Chances are most of the Big Eyed Kids you might have seen — especially in garage sales — were reproductions or cheap copies. Because apparently the original Big Eyed Kids paintings were selling for a mint at a North Beach gallery during the Sixties and early Seventies.
Turns out, the Big Eyed paintings were the work of a San Francisco artist named Margaret Keane. Her husband, who was the marketing brains behind the duo, built the “brand” into the first mass marketed art phenomenon. To the point where Hollywood celebrities were commissioning Big Eyed pictures of themselves. The rest of us probably got a puzzle or a lunch box or a poster featuring a Big Eyed something.
Unfortunately, Walter Keane’s “promotion” extended to claiming credit for his wife’s work. Credit that was proven to be false in a Federal Court case, where his divorced wife proved she was the real artist by painting a Big Eyed Kid in the judge’s presence. Her husband refused to do the same, claiming a bad shoulder. She won the case.
A little bit of Googling after pondering this bit of “What Ever Happened To…” turned up the interesting fact that there is a movie in the works about Margaret Keane. It’s called, appropriately, Big Eyes. Kate Hudson will play Margaret. Thomas Haden Church will play Walter.
And the real Margaret Keane? She now lives in Napa. Practically a neighbor. I wonder if she’d be interested in painting two Big Eyed Terriers in a vineyard?