Some info and background in honor of Tim Burton’s new movie “Big Eyes” about the amazing artist Margaret Keane (Peggy Doris Hawkins was her Birth Name).
I included some of her work instead of trying to describe it, along with a picture of her and her husband Frank Ulbrich in 1953 (Below) where she was painting names on neckties at a fair and further down is a picture of Amy Adams as her in the movie. Also, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet there’s a link to it at the bottom and a link to the song ‘Big Eyes’ that Lana Del Rey made for the movie.
Well, here’s everything you need to know about Margaret Keane before you see the movie
Margaret Keane was born Peggy Doris Hawkins in Tennessee, and attributes her deep respect for the Bible and inspirations of her artwork to her relationship with her grandmother. She later became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which, she states, changed her life for the better.
In the 1960s, Margaret Keane’s artwork was sold under the name of her husband, Walter Keane, who claimed credit for her work. She left her home in San Francisco on November 1, 1964 for Hawaii, where she lived for 27 years. In March 1965, she divorced Walter. In 1970, she remarried to Honolulu sports writer Dan McGuire. In 1970, Margaret Keane announced to the world, via radio broadcast, that she was the true creator of the paintings. The Keanes continued to dispute the origin of the paintings, and after Walter Keane suggested to USA Today that the only reason Margaret claimed she was the painter was because she believed he was dead, she sued him in federal court for slander. At the hearing, the Judge ordered both Margaret and Walter to create a big-eyed child painting in the courtroom to determine who was telling the truth. Walter declined to paint before the court, citing a sore shoulder, whereas Margaret completed her painting in a mere 53 minutes. After three weeks of trial, a jury awarded Margaret $4 million in damages.
Her works while living in her husband’s shadow tended to depict sad children in a dark setting, but after divorcing, moving to Hawaii, and becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, her paintings took on a happier, brighter style. Her website now advertises her work as having “tears of joy” or “tears of happiness”.
Currently, Margaret makes her home in Napa County, California. She will be portrayed by Amy Adams in the upcoming film, Big Eyes, directed by Tim Burton, a Keane art collector who once commissioned the artist to paint his then-girlfriend Lisa Marie in the 1990s.
Actresses Joan Crawford and Natalie Wood commissioned Keane to paint their portraits.
In 1973, Woody Allen’s comedy Sleeper features people of the future considering Keane to be one of the greatest artists in history.
In the 1980s, sketch series Saturday Night Live aired a skit featuring Keane’s work as a parody of the reaction against modern art (e.g., Cubism or the New York Armory Show). Additionally, in the sitcom Newhart, Bob looks at a Keane-inspired painting with his puzzled observation as, “Children with big ears?”
In 1988, Weird Al Yankovic’s song, “Velvet Elvis”, features the lyrics, “no pictures of Mexican kids with those really big eyes or dogs playing poker”.
In 1998, cartoon series the Powerpuff Girls debuts by animator Craig McCracken, featuring leads based on Keane’s “waifs” (and a character named “Ms. Keane”).
In 1999, Matthew Sweet’s album, In Reverse, features one of Keane’s oil paintings on the album’s cover.
In 2011, 90210 featured an episode in which character Annie is described as looking “like a Keane painting.”
In 2014, the movie Big Eyes directed by Tim Burton and starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz is based on the divorce trial between Margaret and Walter in the 1950s and ’60s.
~Amy Adams in ‘Big Eyes’/Image © The Weinstein Co.~
Here’s an interesting transcript of an interview with the writers of the movie.
~Over the course of their twenty-five-year partnership, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have carved out a peculiarly successful Hollywood niche: oddball biopics about polarizing outsiders. Ed Wood (“Ed Wood”), Larry Flynt (“The People vs. Larry Flynt”), Andy Kaufman (“Man on the Moon”). They consistently and stubbornly focus on men who provoked and confounded as much as they entertained and inspired. With “Big Eyes,” directed by Tim Burton for a Christmas Day release, they bring their unique sensibility to the story of Margaret Keane, a critically maligned mid-century painter whose husband Walter claimed her strangely popular works as his own until a court case infamously exposed his chauvinist con. Word & Film caught up with the duo the morning after a special L.A. screening of the film that featured a rare appearance by Margaret, now in her mid-eighties, to dig into the “perverse empathy” they bring to their unusual subjects.
~ What’s the aspect of the Keanes’ story that most anchored your creative curiosity when writing it?
SCOTT ALEXANDER: We came into it discovering just the broad strokes of the story, in that, Oh my god, this is completely crazy, this art that took over the world in the sixties and had a very mixed reception — critics hated it, people loved it — and the guy who said he was the painter for ten years was actually a crazy showboat liar, and his wife was locked in the back of the house doing the painting. And then as we started shaping the story, we started looking at it as a women’s empowerment story. We kept joking that we’re making a 1950s women’s picture, like a Douglas Sirk movie, where Margaret worked as this metaphor for pre-feminist thinking. She was this woman coming out of a fifties suburb who allowed her husband to speak for her, but by the end of the movie, as the seventies are coming in, she can’t take it anymore and she has to break out of the cage and stand up for herself.
LARRY KARASZEWSKI: What also drew us was the challenge of pulling that off. In our other films, that loudmouth guy who’s constantly selling, he’s our lead character. Whether it’s Larry Flynt or Ed Wood or Andy Kaufman — that tends to be our protagonist. The trick here was that he was going to be the antagonist, that the person we were going to tell the movie through was actually the shy, quiet, passive person.
~ What does the film say about the process of or motivations for making art?
SA: Walter and Margaret present this dichotomy. We’re clearly not supposed to be on Walter’s side in terms of him valuing the commerce over the content, though history might have proven us wrong in that there’s been a melding of art just being shamelessly commercial now. But back in Margaret and Walter’s time, you had the gatekeepers in terms of the critics and the curators, who would tell you what is good and tell you everything else should be ignored. To Margaret’s credit, and almost stubbornly so, she knew what she liked to paint and she liked to paint it over and over. She liked to paint sad children. It was an artist expressing her inner feelings through imagery, which is what you’re supposed to do.
LK: It’s funny, I just got back from showing the film at Art Basel in Miami, which was to a gigantic theater full of nothing but gallery owners and art critics. Flying there, I was nervous wondering how the Keane story would go over with this crowd. But once I entered the arena there, it was clear to me that the divide between high art and low art, the divide between art and commerce, had been totally smashed. And that Walter today could be totally open and honest about what he’s doing and still be considered an artist! [laughs] “You know what I do? Someone else paints my paintings, and I sign them, and I go on ‘The Tonight Show’ and promote it as my art!” You can really make this direct line from Walter to Warhol to Peter Max and Thomas Kinkade, but there’s definitely Jeff Koons in there, too, and Schnabel. It all blends together now.
~ There are parallels to Hollywood in terms of the bleeding together of art and commerce.
SA: If you go back to the Keanes’ era, there was a very strong demarcation in movies between high art and low art. The movie stars starred in the A pictures, and then every studio had a B unit, which they were a little embarrassed by, the genre pictures, the bread-and-butter pictures. But now, the genre and bread-and-butter pictures are the movie business. They’ve become the A movies.
~ You worked with Tim Burton twenty years ago on “Ed Wood.” Can you give us some insight on how you work with him?
LK: What Tim brings unique for us is simply his vision. He really shoots our pages. “Ed Wood” famously was a first draft. “Big Eyes” wasn’t that different. He really wanted to stick to that initial blueprint. What’s great about Tim as a director is that he can take what we wrote and make a Tim Burton movie out of it. He was a perfect director for this movie because he is a visual artist and kind of nonverbal, and I think that’s why he could connect to Margaret Keane. They’re both artists who don’t really communicate with their words; they communicate with their passion, which comes out on the canvas or comes out in their art.
~ What is it in your own personalities that drives you to humanize such strange and polarizing people?
SA: Maybe I’m an outsider wannabe. I don’t know, maybe Larry and I just still feel like ten-year-old film geeks. We’re just inordinately fascinated with these iconoclasts and anarchists and troublemakers and solo artists who insist on swimming upstream against everybody else.
LK: As a screenwriter, you’re always feeling like the odd man out. We both certainly share an interest in the nutjobs in the corners who never really got a break. I would be much happier reading a magazine article about Ted Mikels or Al Adamson or Herschell Gordon Lewis than I would reading a magazine article about Fred Zinnemann — people who are struggling in this little, tiny pocket of the world trying to get their ideas across. The key to our movies is that we’re nonjudgmental against these people that the whole world has basically placed a judgment on — whether it’s “Ed Wood is the worst filmmaker of all time,” or “Margaret Keane is the most kitschy artist that ever existed.” By just presenting who they are as human beings, it allows you to see them in a different light. Also, when you do these characters, drama is conflict, and their lives are just full of conflict because nothing they’re doing tends to be going right!
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