As a little girl, I remember vividly having these posters of the little girls with “big eyes” on the walls of my bedroom along with posters of Michael Jackson and other pop icons of that time.
I never thought for one second about the artist of these paintings, what inspired them or where they came from. I was simply just fascinated by the feelings conveyed through the eyes of the little girls in the paintings.
Walter Keane became a pop/art icon of the 70’s due to the popularity of these unusual paintings affectionately nicknamed big eyes.”. Known around the world, these paintings had a haunting quality about them that reflected sadness in the enormous eyes of a child. Only problem was…the ideas, artistry and passion that created these iconic pieces did not come from the artistic mind and talent of Walter Keane, but from his wife Margaret Ulbrich.
After years of abuse from her husband, Ulbrich fled to San Francisco where she meets Walter Keane at a swap meet. Following a rapid fire courtship, Keane and Ulbrich marry. Being artistic, yet shy, Ulrich was a little more of an introvert. However, Keane was the talkative salesman and a deceptive one.
Keane began taking credit for Ulbrich’s work and she found herself trapped in a lie she helped create. Realizing that Keane had purposefully alienated her from friends, her daughter, was fraudulent about his painting ability and attempted to burn them up in her own home…Ulbrich flees with her daughter yet again. Landing in Hawaii, still perpetuating the lie, Ulbrich becomes a Jehovah Witness.
Apparently, that was just the push she needed to blow the whistle on Keane’s fraud. Hawaiian courts decided that Ulbrich is in fact the originator of the “big eye” paintings, shortly after the judge requests they both draw. Keane feigns a shoulder injury in court, which is instantly recognized as another fraudulent attempt on his part to slide out of owning up to his decade old lie.
Amy Adams won the Golden Globe for her performance as Margaret Ulbrich, who still draws and lives in Hawaii. Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz convincingly portrays every color and layer of Walter Keane, who goes to his deathbed insisting that he was the originator of the paintings.
I was absolutely flabbergasted, insulted and annoyed that this man would take advantage of his wife, her trust and exploit her talent all for the sake of nurturing his ego and lack of talent. As sad as this is, it is even more disheartening that an ego will drive men AND women to do some of the most despicable acts of emotional and physical abuse for personal gain and attention.
In the case of Margaret Ulbrich and Walter Keane, the vow – til death do us part brings on a whole new meaning. It’s nice to know in the end Margaret got the credit she so richly deserved for her personal, eyes of the soul art. Big Eyes can be found in a theatre new you or VOD.