Copyright. Forgery. Identity theft. Phrases that hardly raise an eyebrow in our increasingly internet addicted lives where personal information and even our own work is shared and sold online in an alarmingly glib fashion. These days it seems that almost everyone knows someone who’s been ripped off by a scam artist or at the very least, had their credit card details stolen and misused at some point.
Now rewind 70 years or so; to the decade of stifling conformity, to housewives with perfectly coiffed hair, to a culture idolising domestic bliss as a shelter from the terror of the Cold War. Against a backdrop of such fervent traditionalism, picture someone stealing an artists whole body of work and audaciously claiming it as their own. Picture them achieving untold worldwide success from paintings created behind closed doors by the hand of someone they claimed to love. Picture them boasting about their genius on national TV, releasing coffee table books with their name printed boldly besides hundreds of works not their own, selling millions of reproductions, even opening their own gallery for the sale of the originals. All the while the real artist slavishly complicit in this nightmarish scenario.
It seems entirely unbelievable.
But add in a few more details; like the gender of the artist whose work was stolen (female), her relation to the imposter (married) and her status in the afore-mentioned 1950s male-dominated society (single mother). Suddenly, and sadly, this story doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched. This is the astonishing true story told through Tim Burton’s brilliant movie Big Eyes. If you have any interest whatsoever in art or cultural history or just the psychological make-up of someone so abhorrently narcissistic and manipulative as Walter Keane, watch this movie. It’s cringeworthy and heartbreaking and above all, seriously thought provoking. Essential viewing.