Thursday, December 18, 2014

"The Night Gallery" Joan Crawford portrait

I hate to be on a Joan Crawford run, but I just can't help but writing about this fantastic painting I saw in an old rerun of the Night Gallery. Actually, I only saw the pilot episode. I wasn't in love with the series and it certainly wasn't as good as The Twilight Zone. But there was something about it that still attracted me. While it might not have been the best show ever, there was still that wonderful Rod Sterling touch, that beautiful eeriness, and most importantly... art!
If you don't know anything about the Night Gallery, it ran from 1970 to 1973. They all featured eerie horror stories hosted by Rod Sterling. The way the show worked was that Rod would introduce a painting and then the actual "story" part would be the explanation of why that painting was so secretly horrific. Like I said, after but one episode, I'm no expert about the show, but apparently episodes were less sci-fi (in the light of the Twilight Zone) and more supernatural. I'll just take Wikipedia's word for it.
I saw the entire pilot which was comprised of three paintings and therefore different stories. The first and the third, I could take or leave. But, I loved one episode, "Eyes." And if you look at the details, it's easy to see why. It was directed by Stephen Spielberg, in one of his earliest directorial positions, and it starred none other than the queen of melodrama herself, Miss Joan Crawford.
The story opens with an eerie portrait of Joan Crawford looking directly out at the canvas (another engaging Crawford portrait). In "Eyes," she plays a mean-spirited, wealthy blind woman who buys the eyes of a hapless, ignorant gambler for a risky surgery. She blackmails everyone to get the illegal surgery to happen but, as it so happens, karma is a real bitch. I won't ruin the ending, but it's a worthwhile watch. The whole episode (all three stories) will leave you a little unsettled.
A show completely based around art is such an appealing concept. The premise of the show is really the premise of the blog: art holds deep secrets and much meaning. We might not see it initially, but once we understand, the understanding helps grow our appreciation of the piece and of the power of art in general.

The Joan Crawford painting, titled "Eyes," is dated from 1969 and was painted by one of my favorite TV/movie artists, Jerry Gebr, the legendary Universal artist. Gebr did a lot of work for the Night Gallery and his talents were certainly very much in demand for an art-based show. I don't know the details of the painting, but I assume due to time constraints, that Gebr did the painting off a photo instead of off of Crawford herself. He still did a magnificent job, capturing Crawford in all her elegance. At the same time, the almost expressionist styling really lends to the feelings of the ominous and the horrofic.

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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