Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The "Big Eyes" Joan Crawford Painting

A recent movie trailer actually helped answer an artist question that I've had for a while. A few days ago, I saw the trailer for the new Amy Adams film "Big Eyes," a Tim Burton biopic about Margaret Keane, the legendary kitsch artist who painted the famous "big eye" paintings of animals, mothers, kids, anything. Keane's story is so interesting because her husband actually took credit for her work for years until she later sued and divorced him. I haven't read any reviews of the film yet, but (as you well know) any movies about art or artist always interest me.
In the trailer, you get a very brief glimpse of one of Keane's more famous paintings: a portrait of legendary actress Joan Crawford. It turns out, in the height of Keane's fame, both Joan Crawford and Natalie Wood commissioned Keane portraits. In the 60s, both Wood and Crawford were real stars. So if that doesn't speak to Keane's popularity, nothing should.
The Crawford portrait is rather stunning and really does justice to the cinema dominatrix. I actually recognized the painting because Joan posed in front of it in the picture of herself that graces her memoir. I have to admit that I find it ironic that Joan, with her famed rivalry with Bette Davis (herself famed for her "Bette Davis eyes"), should want to emulate a feature so closely connected with her enemy. But that's just me being a peevish gossip.
What I think is really incredible is that Keane obviously had real talent. Joan's eyes are a little larger than real life, but certainly not as large as the most iconic of the "big eyes" paintings. It's realism tinged with caricature. Because the features are so clear, even exaggerated, you can clearly tell that its Joan Crawford in all her chilly elegance. The portrait is stunningly dramatic, with the sharp curve of the cape, and the direct engaging stare. And then you remember, the painting is engaging because of the stare, because of Keane's signature motif, the eyes. Perhaps, they really are windows to the soul. They certainly are in this painting.
In real life, Keane began painting her famous big eyed paintings in the 1960s where they became hugely popular. Later, after her divorce, she moved to Hawaii and her work took on a much brighter and more colorful look. Tim Burton, the director of "Big Eyes" is a huge Keane collector; hence, he made the movie.


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