Beautiful Freaks

“It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it”.

big eyes, Keane, Burton

All the better to see right through you, mister…

That was what Andy Warhol had to say in 1965 about the American people’s insatiable appetite, not for his soup cans but paintings of forlorn grey-skinned children with enormous eyes, echoing some unspoken tristesse at the heart of the suburban dream.

At the time,  envious Andy and everyone else thought those critically derided paintings were the work of bohemian Hollywood art gallery owner, Walter Keane. But, as it later transpired, and as Tim Burton has portrayed in his latest acclaimed movie, Big Eyes, the hundreds of popular artworks of doleful doe-eyed waifs were actually painted by Keane’s wife Margaret.

Big Eyes, Tim Burton

Burton’s “Walter” Mitty-Style Movie

Among fashion and cinema’s hispter elite, “big eyes” have always been a signifier of  “weird cool”. Burton himself commissioned Margaret Keane in the 1990s to paint a portrait of his then girlfriend, model Lisa Marie and her pet dog, Poppy.

Lisa Marie Presley, Burton, Keane, big eyes

Lisa Marie and her weird pet (behind the painting)

Big eyes have regularly appeared in the work of photographer, David LaChapelle

Big eyes, LaChapelle

Big eyes a la LaChapelle

.. and were memorably featured in the artwork for the sleeve of Eels 1996 debut album, Beautiful Freak, though their inspiration might well have been not so much Keene as the 1970s American Blythe dolls that suddenly became fashionable in the late 1990s, almost 30 years after their birth.

Eels, Beautiful Freak, big eyes

Novacaine For The Soul indeed…

It’s easy to say that the big-eyed waif paintings of the 1960s were the sentimental equivalent to today’s ubiquitous kitten memes, though for all the popularity of schmaltz in the app world, people seem reluctant these days to find a physical space for sentiment in their home – as opposed to typographical commands to “Keep Calm etc” or just “Love” (perhaps we prefer to reflect on childhood by being addressed by our mugs and tea towels as if we were still children…).

Blythe, doll, big eyes

Nightmares in the nursery…

However, if you’re a big Tim Burton fan and like the idea of bringing beautifully freakish “big eyes” into your home, then why not take a look here


2017 up-date: here’s an interesting link to Andy Warhol and his work

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