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Big Eyes

2021

My illustration based on the story of Margaret, and Walter Keane - famed for their lawsuit and trial over the true artist of some of the most popular paintings in the 1950s and 1960s.

Margaret and Walter Keane are said to meet in the mid 1950s, when Walter claims to have been at the "height of his popularity". Walter is attracted to Margaret's large eyes, though he is still married, while Margaret found him "suave, gregarious and charming". During this time, he is working as a property salesman, but painting on the side. Later, Keane would tell the press that his property sales career came to an end in 1947. Margaret and Walter marry some years later in Honolulu, 1955.

Walter, a keen salesman saw the market for her big-eyed paintings, and began selling them immediately after their marriage. Unknown to Margaret, it was not under her name that the paintings were being sold, but rather Walter's. Realising his theft of her work, Margaret remained silent, and though torturous even publicly acknowledged Walter as the creator of the phenomenal works. "At least they were being shown" was the rationalisation the Margaret later gave, while commenting that she was afraid of her husband having her "done in" if she said anything. In 1957 Walter began exhibiting the "big eyes" paintings as his own. In the 1960s, Keane became one of the most popular and commercially successful artists of the time. At the height of the paintings popularity, Margaret was painting for 16 hours a day, until she left her husband in 1964.

During a radio broadcast in 1970, Margaret reveals that she had been the creator of the beloved works from the beginning. After Keane revealed the truth, a "paint-out" between Margaret and Walter was staged, and attended by the media and Margaret. Walter, famously, did not show up. Some years later, Margaret sued Walter, leading to a judge ordering for the Keanes to both create a big eyed painting in the courtroom. Walter claimed he couldn't perform due to a bad shoulder, while Margaret completed her work in 53 minutes.

Margaret's story of triumph after years of suppression inspired me to create my own piece capturing the strength of Margaret, and the belittlement of Walter. While my illustration doesn't describe the drama of the story, I felt it important to capture a moment of transferred power in a relationship. I'm particularly fond of Walter's drooping browns, and sulking mouth, while Margaret seems to smirk in self assurance.

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