Thursday, November 14, 2013

Margaret Keane's Kids

My recent post on the apparent Black Eyed Kid found in a scene of Close Encounters of the Third Kind brought forth a flurry of responses.  In short order, several readers contacted me to identify the artist, a woman whose work I was unfamiliar with.
My friend Red Pill Junkie first sent me an 'unskewed' version of the BEK painting from Close Encounters.  Once I searched a database of the artist's work, the image was easy to locate.  Here's the image from the film and a shot of the original painting:

It turns out that the painting is from an American artist named Margaret Keane.  Keane was born in Tennessee in 1927.  She is a Jehovah’s Witness who credits her grandmother with inspiring her artwork and instilling her with a deep respect for the Bible. 
Keane’s paintings were very popular in the 1960s when her work was sold under the name of her husband, Walter Keane.  The couple divorced in the 1980s and the ownership of the paintings was contested.  Margaret challenged her estranged husband to a ‘paint-off’ in court to prove she was the actual artist.  Walter bowed out citing a bad shoulder and the courts sided with Margaret.
Keane’s work was a part of popular culture in the 60s and many of Hollywood’s elite owned her paintings.  Director Tim Burton has recently announced plans for a movie title “Big Eyes” based on Keane’s work.

Her paintings typically depict children with large, oversized eyes that are often black.  Her early works are sad and haunting and the children appear lost and lonely.  It's a rather unsettling style.  Close examination reveals a sliver of white in the eyes of Keane’s children.  Still, it is in a sense, a depiction of a different type of black eyed child and on an emotional level, people responded.
Perhaps her popularity during the period is what led Spielberg to use one of her paintings on the set of Close Encounters.  Still, one must wonder if he had another, more subtle reason.  Directors of Spielberg's magnitude rarely doing anything haphazard and usually chose carefully what's included on a set.  Perhaps he used the image, combined with the actions of Roy's son during the scene to harken to the presence of aliens just outside the door.  Unless someone has a direct line to Spielberg and can ask him, we're not likely to know.
Keane often chose to paint her children standing in doorways or peering through windows.  In fact, in my quick scan of dozens of her paintings, all the children seem to be outside, looking over fences standing in alleyways or outside of homes.  Perhaps they just want to come inside.  
Keane claims that since her divorce and her move to Hawaii that her work has become more lighthearted and she now paints children who are 'crying tears of joy.'  
Personally, I wonder exactly how the Bible and her grandmother inspired such odd pieces of work.

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