February 28, 2023
Art surrounds each of us and demands to be front and center every single day of our lives. One might not think so, but you may be surprised at the amount of art that you have purchased or consumed without realizing it. Artists designed furniture in your home, they created your clothing – and even the logo of the company for which you work. Your favorite movie poster had to begin somewhere in a conceptual stage. An artist or team of artists created the layout for the poster and chose what colors and fonts would evoke the emotion they want from the audience. Art is persuasive, powerful, and bold. It is something every individual experiences differently. This emotional response is what draws people to certain pieces.
Margaret Keane’s art – which her husband, Walter, presented as his own – was famous for the gigantic orbed eyes of her figures, especially of children. The people of San Francisco in that era were typically only open to modern art, but the soulful sad eyes of the children Keane had painted enticed viewers. The pieces spoke to them, so Keane’s paintings rose to fame. Every consumer wanted a piece of the Big Eye movement. Keane was forced by her husband to paint for up to 16 hours a day so he could continue to have new material to flaunt as his own. Keane finally had had enough of Walter’s lies and decided to do something for herself.
“For many years, I allowed my second husband to take credit for my paintings. But one day, unable to continue the deception any longer, I left him and my home in California and moved to Hawaii.”
Despite having no money or clothes, Keane took a chance and left Walter. The scariest leaps of faith usually bring the most reward. Keane eventually was deemed as the true artist of her work. She won a 1990 defamation suit against Walter and USA Today, which published an article claiming Walter was the true artist of the pair. However, the courts overturned a $4 million damage award she had filed against her husband. Still, her work was her own again, and she continued to paint every single day until she died in 2022.
Margaret Keane’s story is featured in Tim Burton’s 2014 film “Big Eyes.” The courtroom finale scene had to be toned down for the film because the real-life incident was so outrageous the filmmakers didn’t think people would believe it really happened. “Big Eyes” is in the Musser collection if you would like to reserve it.
Margaret Keane’s art and story have provided inspiration for many people, myself included. If you don’t take a chance, then how will you know what you are truly capable of? As the artist herself said, “I finally got to the point where I decided I don’t care if it’s good art or bad art – it’s what I do. I enjoy doing it.”
Drawing is something I also enjoy, although my skills need to be developed more. Browsing through the collection of art books at Musser Library, I picked a pile and wanted to see what I could come up with from the offered teachings.
I took inspiration from quite a few books, as well as one of Keane’s paintings and eventually came up with this sketch. You never know what creativity will spark you when you grab a few books from the library.
“What I’m excited about right now” features one library employee at a time writing about their current favorites in books, magazines, music, TV series, movies, games or other materials or activities that inform or entertain. This blog also appears in the MPL email newsletter.