July 28, 2007 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Big-eyed kitsch art, paintings of waifs and sad eyes, pity kitty and pity puppy. Among this group of painters, Margaret Keane's story is quite interesting. For many years her ex-husband stole the credit for her paintings, she sued and won. Contemporary artists who include the big-eyed theme in their work: the amazing Mark Ryden. The hilarious [nsfw] and dark work of Colin and Sas Christian; Megan Besmirched and her Big Eyed Art Bonanza.
posted by nickyskye (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
More big eye, saucer-eyed urchin look.

Ozz Franca was renowned for soft colored girls
and big-eyed clowns before his paintings of Native Americans.

Flickr pool, big-eyed art.

Pity kitty. Shrek's Puss n' Boots. Andy Warhol doing the Keane waif thing.

Igor Pantuhoff's gallery.

Margaret Keane telling her story, taken from the magazine Awake 1975.

Funny portrait of Jerry Lewis' family by Margaret Keane. Keane paint by numbers. On Wikipedia. Canvas transfer versions.

Unrelated, the Russian big-eyed guy.
posted by nickyskye at 1:15 PM on July 28, 2007

Where are the loving homages to space aliens?
posted by Tube at 1:31 PM on July 28, 2007


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( @) ( @)

How could I not include those big eyed paintings of aliens?! By all means please add relevant links.
posted by nickyskye at 1:42 PM on July 28, 2007

And you should include the folk art stuff. [NSFLOLCATS].
posted by YoBananaBoy at 1:44 PM on July 28, 2007

I wish I could link to it, but I once saw a big-eyed painting of Chairman Mao. It rocked.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:58 PM on July 28, 2007

Ohh... and one more thing.

You're welcome.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:00 PM on July 28, 2007

Your big eyed kitsch artist also makes big titted kitsch art.
posted by Eekacat at 2:41 PM on July 28, 2007

My recollection from the early 1960s was that the Keanes had a gallery in Sausalito, and both took credit for the paintings (I think they were just signed 'Keane').

And at the time, it was believed that she did the faces and he did the clothes/backgrounds/etc, though they never (at that time) explained what the dual credit meant.

Also, they were artistically on a par with a the clam shells with googly eyes glued to them that were sold in Sausalito too.
posted by hexatron at 3:02 PM on July 28, 2007

You know who else has big eyes?

posted by vronsky at 3:46 PM on July 28, 2007

vronsky, Loved BabySophy! Not kitsch, (well maybe a little but mostly) charming.

hexatron, "The dispute came to a climax in a 1986 lawsuit, when a federal judge in Honolulu ordered both Walter and Margaret Keane to paint pictures for the jury.

Margaret produced a likeness of a big-eyed child in 54 minutes. Mr. Keane declined to paint, saying he had a sore shoulder.

There was also a scheduled Union Square "paint-off" in 1970, covered in Life magazine, where Margaret again produced a painting but Walter failed to attend.

Herb Caen, who knew Mr. Keane from his North Beach days, concluded in a 1991 column that Margaret Keane was the real painter."

they were artistically on a par with a the clam shells with googly eyes glued to them

Some considerable thought has been put into defining kitsch and its impact. From the excellent Wikipedia entry: "The Czech writer Milan Kundera, in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), defined it as “the absolute denial of shit.” He wrote that kitsch functions by excluding from view everything that humans find difficult to come to terms with, offering instead a sanitised view of the world in which “all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions.”...Kitsch is a term of German origin that has been used to categorize art that is considered an inferior copy of an existing style. The term is also used more loosely in referring to any art that is pretentious to the point of being in bad taste, and also commercially produced items that are considered trite or crass..."

It gets deep..."In its desire to paper over the complexities and contradictions of real life, kitsch, Kundera suggested, is intimately linked with totalitarianism. In a healthy democracy, diverse interest groups compete and negotiate with one another to produce a generally acceptable consensus; by contrast, “everything that infringes on kitsch,” including individualism, doubt, and irony, “must be banished for life” in order for kitsch to survive. Therefore, Kundera wrote, “Whenever a single political movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch.”

For Kundera, “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.”
posted by nickyskye at 3:55 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

You know who else loved big eyed waifs?

John Wayne Gacy.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:14 PM on July 28, 2007

I barely remember the stuff about the Keanes, but I definately recall that, in the early 1960s, it was at least somewhat generally beleived that Mr Keane did not paint the big eyes.

Judging from the Jerry Lewis portrait, Mrs Keane may in fact need help with backgrounds. The animal faces in that portrait are also really quite excellent, and (given the proportion problems in the human figures) make me suspicious that the animals were 'contracted out'.

I am not qualified to discuss kitsch intellectually. I use a Hello Kitty camera case.
posted by hexatron at 4:25 PM on July 28, 2007

animals were 'contracted out'

Looking at her site, from the Margaret Keane's story link, I was pretty impressed with her animals. But the position of the heads on the bodies in that Jerry Lewis painting seemed inordinately stilted.

I use a Hello Kitty camera case

aww, that Hello Kitty case sounds very likeable. :) Enjoying kitsch wouldn't, imo, make one unable to understand it or interested in it intellectually. There's tons of kitsch I love, LOLCATS for one. Jewelry made of Barbie doll parts...all kinds of stuff. But I think being unable to see it as kitsch would be a hindrance to understanding it. If you named your Hello Kitty bag, then you already can see it for what it is while still enjoying it.
posted by nickyskye at 5:10 PM on July 28, 2007

awww, some of those sad eyes look like they could use a rest.

Fun post, nickyskye. In this genre, I like Jenny Bird and Radical Suzuki.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:45 PM on July 28, 2007

My parents had a few original Keans bought in San Francisco in the '60s, later sold at a garage sale for about a dollar each. I don't have the heart to tell my mom what they'd go for today.
posted by lisa g at 6:54 PM on July 28, 2007

There was a Keane display on Market St. in San Fran. for years. Near the Emporium. A poster told the story and there were a few big-eye paintings....hard not to stop and stare....drink in those big eyes...and shudder.
posted by telstar at 9:02 PM on July 28, 2007

Great post nickyskye, as usual!

I liked the Bunny Sees Boobs sculpture too;b

Oh, and the waif one as well--very striking.
posted by hadjiboy at 11:07 PM on July 28, 2007

Neat post, nickyskye! I liked your Kundera quotations about kitsch, too.

I was surprised at how much I actually liked the Keane cat paintings. All the kitties looked slightly naughty (mischievous, I mean, not NSFW)! They're quite endearing.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:23 AM on July 29, 2007

Man mjjj that Jenny Bird site was like Keane for Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas. Amazing and bizarrely beautiful images. And, as usual, so thoughtful of you to offer those eyes little eye pillows.

hurdy gurdy girl, So pleased you liked the Kundera quotations. As a kid I think I intuited the wrongness of kitsch and wouldn't allow myself to enjoy American kitsch, so I had an oblique enjoyment, loving, being amused by kitsch from other countries. But there was some art snobbery mixed in too.

It was strange, after 9/11, the pervasive use of the American flag became kitsch rather than something authentic. It was disturbing. So I could see Kundera's point about the political aspects of kitsch, especially the totalitarian angle.

Keane's cat paintings are wonderful also her pugs and horses.

Having read about her suffering as a kid and her marriage to her abusive ex, her waif paintings make new sense to me. And maybe they appealed to people as a genuine expression of suffering, even though they were in kitsch, big eyed form?
posted by nickyskye at 2:28 AM on July 29, 2007

Nice post, but I suddenly felt back in 1998 for some reason ...
posted by mrgrimm at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2007

Momus and Jeff Koons
posted by vronsky at 2:15 AM on August 1, 2007

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