Citizen Keane: The Big Lies Behind the Big Eyes

Citizen Keane: The Big Lies Behind the Big Eyes

Cletus Nelson, Adam Parfrey

Language: English

Pages: 200

ISBN: 1936239957

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Teary, big-eyed orphans and a multitude of trashy knockoffs epitomized American kitsch art as they clogged thrift stores for decades.

When Adam Parfrey tracked down Walter Keane—the credited artist of the weepy waifs, for a San Diego Reader cover story in 1992—he discovered some shocking facts. Decades of lawsuits and countersuits revealed the reality that Keane was more of a con man than an artist, and that he forced his wife Margaret to sign his name to her own paintings. As a result, those weepy waifs may not have been as capricious an invention as they seemed.

Parfrey's story was reprinted in Juxtapoz magazine and inspired a Margaret Keane exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum. And now director Tim Burton is filming a movie about the Keanes called Big Eyes, and it's scheduled for release in 2014. Burton's Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp, was based upon the Feral House book edited and published by Parfrey about the angora sweater-wearing B-film director.

Citizen Keane is a book-length expansion of Parfrey's original article, providing fascinating biographical and sociological details, photographs, color reproductions, and appendices with legal documents and pseudonymous essays by Tom Wolfe inflating big eye art to those painted by the great masters.

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La Jolla, Walter Keane could only reflect on how his behavior and claims drove away Margaret, his magic paycheck, to Hawaii, and complain of a sore arm when people asked him why he no longer painted his own Big Eye art as displayed in those fancy art books. After the cover story appeared, Walter wrote an angry letter to the San Diego Reader accusing me of accepting six-figure largesse from Jehovah’s Witness headquarters to play up Margaret as the true Big Eye artist. If only. CHAPTER ONE

staged many art exhibitions in the U.S. and Europe, will be making their first visit to the orient aboard Japan Air Lines inaugural flight on August 12th.” From UPI’s 7/5/57 caption: “With a whole family supply of art to carry around, the Keanes’ small foreign car sees plenty of use. The opening in the roof is handy for the long, narrow pictures. The Keane paintings are on display in many galleries throughout the U.S. and in Honolulu, as well as in one San Francisco restaurant which has trouble

of depth, of penetration, of admission to the secret self, attaints a power that not even the primitives, in simple acts of faith in the eye symbol, could feel. The end result, of course, is the Keane vision, seen by the viewer as the subjective content that gives Keane’s work an emotive fission that explodes, continually, almost in the manner of an infra-red flash, from the very firmness of line and contour that give the work, as form, an unparalleled sense of formal structure. Alternately

painter) claimed to have done some of the Keane paintings. The claim, vehemently denied by a very much alive Keane is in litigation.”150 The accusation that his ex-wife was telling people he was dead and was falsely claiming to have painted some of his works was a serious charge that demanded a response. Now it was Margaret’s turn in the courtroom. The recently widowed artist filed suit in Hawaii federal district court against Gannett Co. Inc. (the publisher of USA Today) for libel, and against

Walter had threatened to burn the house down and kill her if she ever tried to leave him.152 The presentation was capped off by Margaret’s now famous fifty-three-minute painting of a Big Eye kid in the courtroom, which was entered into evidence as Exhibit 224. “It took one hour,” she later recalled. “I did the eyes, the nose and the mouth; then during the lunch break I did the hair and the background.”153 When asked by Margaret’s attorneys to provide a similar painting, Walter begged off and

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