Much later- it wasn't til things started popping up in second hand stores about 10 years
down the road that I truly realized how much of this stuff was made- most of it. I think in
the late 60's early 70's.
Well I was more interested in finding the right puke green sweater and leopard skin pants at the time and I passed a lot of it by. The ceramic big eyed dogs and cats always caught my attention, but it took a couple more years for me to really delve into this passion for big-eyed paraphenalia. At first it was the Enesco figurines, then to the mass produced, extrememly mass produced knock offs and then it began to hit hard. Posters, prints, dolls, plates, candles, salt and pepper shakers, phone cards, and so on.....
It wasn't until this time that I really heard about Walter Keane. All I really know is that he was huge in the 60's and that he painted waif-like children. I even have an old Hollywood gossip magazine with Kim Novak sitting on her couch, under a Keane painting of herself, How Cool is that?
Then I read an article by Adam Parfrey. I think at the time, it was in the The Reader (later it was reprinted in Juxtapoz magazine, and it is included in Adam Parfrey's book, CULT RAPTURE) That's when I became aware of this big scandal. It seems that Margaret Keane -Walter's ex wife- was granted the title of creator and painter of the big eyed children and that Walter had been pretending to be the artist, the WHOLE time. Basically in court it all come to a head with a paint off. Walter couldn't prove he was the artist- claiming he didn't have full use of his hand.
I didn't really care at first. Then slowly...I became more and more interested. I read the article a couple more times- it all seemed so outlandish. Walter thought it was some religious conspiracy, and Margaret the now 'official' KEANE painter, was remarried and has a gallery of paintings that she had done.
The article painted him a little whacked and I thought that Walter was some crazy old
dude, with all his wild conspiracy stories that every one was out to get him.
Well, that was until I met him and things in my mind began to change. Walter Looked pretty much how I had imagined he would, but he definitly suprised me with his openess and eagerness to talk. Sure maybe he is sort of a womanizer, and quite the charmer. But there is no way, that I can picture him to be SO charming, that I would let him take credit for my hard work for many years. I mean, Margaret and Walter were only married for a few years, and before/during/and after their marriage she let him sign HIS name on her painting? I just don't get why any woman would let a man she wasn't married to for very long (she is just 1 of 3 wives) take the credit for so much stuff, including appearances on the Tonight Show, and lots more! I get all huffy thinking about it.
Currently, Margaret Keane has her own gallery in San Francisco- called KEANE EYES GALLERY. She is now a Jehovah Witness and uses the big eyed children to occasionally promote her religion. Ironically these little darlings don't have the exact same quality. Margaret says that since she found happiness in her faith, she paints these once teary eyed kids....smiling. I know Margaret is a good painter, and I've heard that she is a "sweet older woman" But I still have my suspicions about someone who continues to be known by her ex-husbands last name. And I will probably continue to feel that way until I have a chance to meet her. I realize that many of my facts could have been slightly warped by Walter's charming ways. And I tend to think that there is a lot more to this story than the Keanes are letting on. And I think the Nancy Drew Drew in me, is Just Fighting To Get OUT.
Anyhow it was a really good thing meeting Walter, I know he's not the most politically
correct man. In fact, in no time at all, we were talking about french kissing (which is pretty
funny since I read about him talking about french kissing in an other magazine interview
since then)-- and I'm thinking, it must be on Walters mind a lot. And not to mention that
he was teasing Shane about how it is necessary to keep me in line, and well trained- Just
trying his hardest to get under my skin-and eventually giving up because he knew I was on
to his winsome ways. But it turns out that Walter Keane is quite a generous man. 10
minutes after talking with him he was giving me addresses to writing groups that he is
involved with, offering distribution tips, and he also told us a slew of stories about politics,
famous people he hung with, alcoholism, and some other regular stories that grandparents
tell-- but with much more exciting and exotic locations and the people that are more
recognizable and interesting. And through it all, I never felt like he was bullshitting us,
maybe he was glamorizing his past just a little , but that didn't matter to us in the slightest.
The whole time I was pretty occupied thinking about how this man would have been like
forty years ago, and wondered if he ever imagined that he'd be living just North of San
Diego, selling his autobiography, and no longer credited with doing the paintings that he
was known so long for. When he signed the copy of his book. I couldn't help but cringe
at the tremor in his hand.
It seems odd to me and maybe a little revealing that all those big.sad.weepy.eyed children and animals have such a shameful past- and now I feel like I know why they look so morbidly cute. I get frustrated sometimes then I think about how sour Walter Keane's life truned out. Most people have never even heard the Keane's name before -yet the big eyed icons are definitely images that no one can seem to forget...
Now, I guess my big quest is to meet Margaret- I am a big fan of her art. Her paintings of womens faces with cat-like eyes, that I've seen are really feminine and beautiful. She's undoubtedly a very interesting person. I know that I'll never know who really did all the paintings. But I just need to even out my opinions a little bit. I know that I tend to beleive Walter mostly because I had a chance to talk with him -not to say that I am gullible, but I just thing that I am a fairly good judge of character-well...and maybe just a little too trusting.