Video: Margaret Keane, the Painter Behind Tim Burton's ‘Big Eyes’

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Napa, California-based painter Margaret Keane is the subject of the newest film from director Tim Burton, Big Eyes, which opens December 25, 2014. The director had collected the artist's work for many years when he was asked to direct a film about her life.

Margaret Keane's paintings of wide-eyed children, or "waifs," were ubiquitous starting in the early '60s and then became synonymous with "thrift store art" and kitsch, though the artist would never describe them that way.  Today her "Big Eye Art" style,  widely copied at the time, continues to inspire a new generation of visual artists, including contemporary pop surrealists like Mark Ryden.

Many people still mistakenly credit Margaret's paintings to her former husband, Walter Keane, who convinced Margaret to let him take credit for her art in an attempt to achieve success during the late '50s,  a time when female artists' work was undervalued. Margaret developed a second style of art she could call her own, and continued painting both styles for over a decade, living a lie and what she describes as a nightmare, "an impossible situation."

The Keanes' marriage ended in 1965, and in 1970 Margaret bravely revealed that she was the actual painter of the famous big-eyed waifs. In 1986, a court case proved her right. Although Margaret never collected the restitution fees the court ordered Walter to pay, the recognition she gained for her work was invaluable to the artist.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Margaret at the gallery dedicated to her work, Keane Eyes Gallery, in San Francisco, to find out more about her history as an artist and what it was like to watch a painful decade of her life play out on the big screen.


Special thanks to Nigel Horsley for use of his Tim Burton photo. Follow his work on Flickr.