Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – The Only Thing Better Than a Keane Painting Is to Be With KEANE!

Margaret-Keane-Allee-Willis

Margaret Keane is the High Priestess of Pop Art, painting those huge waif eyed paintings that stared out at everyone throughout the 60′s and 70′s and are still copied and emulated to this day.

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Last Thursday night I got to see not only so many of the original historic paintings but new works by Keane as well who hasn’t lost a gnat’s hair of technique.

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This happened inside one of the greatest places in LA, the Phyllis Morris Showroom. Although Phyllis herself, creator of the original poodle lamp and unquestionably one of the greatest designers who ever lived at the high and artful end of Kitsch, isn’t still with us her creations very much are. Being in the actual presence of Keane and surrounded by both women’s work which not only dominated the eras they came from but still impact Pop Culture today was about as uplifting and exciting an art moment as this Pop artist could have. (I guess I’d have to throw in the time I walked past LA Eyeworks and through the window saw Andy Warhol staring at a motorized piece of art of mine for over five minutes. Him calling me a genius when I walked in was a watershed moment.)

There’s a movie in the works about Margaret Keane with Kate Hudson signed on to play Margaret. Her story is fantastic. Her husband, Walter, was a crafty businessmen and convinced his wife to basically paint and shut up. It was his name that was on all of her paintings and it was he who made multiple appearances on Johnny Carson, did all the interviews and got all the glory. Margaret is still very soft-spoken but came to her senses in an infamous 1965 court case during their divorce when she rightfully and finally claimed that the paintings that made Keane a household word were actually hers. When her husband called her a liar the judge set two easels up and asked them both to paint. Margaret got up and knocked out one of her famous big sad eyed paintings while Walter complained of a sore shoulder and sat there like a lump. Feminism was at its height and Margaret instantly became an Olympian sized champ.

I only own some Keane prints from back in the day. I would have loved to have bought one of her paintings last Thursday but as opposed to the few dollars they cost in the 60′s they now average between $75,000 and $225,000.

As far as Phyllis goes, I hope to go back to the showroom to shoot a video with Jamie Adler, Phyllis’ daughter who runs it now and is a fantastic designer in her own right.  Her mom set the bar for merging Art and Kitsch, magnificently over-the-top Baroque creations that remained totally tasteful and full of importance and humor.  Throughout the four decades she was designing, Phyllis’ oversized beds, chairs, wall units and accessories filled the homes of folks unafraid to embrace their own uniqueness and style like Liberace and Elvis Presley. Here’s Phyllis and her dyed pink poodles in 1953 with some of the first poodle lamps that rolled off the assembly line:

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Now back to the showroom Thursday night:

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Thank you, Margaret and Phyllis, for the never-ending inspiration, talent and fun!

Main Photo: Katy Winn


Categories: Art, Celebrity, Creative process, Forgot to Categorize, Furniture and Housewares, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, People, Place, Self expression

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15 Comments

  • Denise says:

    There is just NOTHING about that entire post that I do not LOVE. I didn’t know Margaret Keane’s story — thank you for that! And let me just say how many eye teeth I would give for a set of those sheets.

  • Allee says:

    Every single thing in that showroom is STUNNING, BREATHTAKING and ICONIC! Between Keane and Morris it’s a pop culture smorgasbord.

  • Nessa says:

    How fantastic! I am a big Keane fan, my mom hung a print in my room when I was a kiddo, and those eyes looming over me every night became quite a comfort. I am pretty much in awe of every photograph you’ve posted here, wow!

  • Christina says:

    I also had a picture in my room as a little girl. I’d draw and draw and draw her pictures and I also had made a decoupage wooden box purse of things of hers I had cut out of magazines. OH to have that decoupage box purse again!

  • lauren duarte says:

    OMG! OMG! OMG!!!!!!!

  • I had a Keane print on my wall in my dorm room in the 60′s! This posting is a thrill as so many of your postings are. Thank you for sharing the story and photos with us all. I’m a big fan of yours, Allee. Sheryl

  • Oh, my! But look, their popularity began in the fifties at least. My college roommate was their babysitter in Berkeley in those days.

  • Florie Freshman says:

    love it all! what was carolyn’s birth name? and phyllis- what a gal! thank you!

  • monica johnson says:

    oh how i love this..Is she walters wife, or daughter? I loved his too, and always thought i looked like one.

  • monica johnson says:

    oh i see, her husband..should read before i question..its always been a problem. this woman is so very special.

  • Allee says:

    Monica- I know you well enough to know that it would only be a matter of minutes ( it was two exactly) before you’d figure out the answer. And don’t overlook Phyllis Morris. You would be fascinated by her. Phyllis and Margaret were great friends. I think Phyllis owned something like 30 Keanes.

  • Lynda Wells says:

    Say, Allee, did you notice that Margaret looks like Jane Keane? Ummm, were they related? Damn, I just remembered that I used to have a poodle lamp (of course I did, since I had a white toy poodle). Now, let me see, where the h…. is it?

  • dorothea tortilla says:

    Gawd, my dear you live an enviable life!!!!!

  • Allee says:

    Thank you, Sheryl and Dorothea! Lauren, are you excited enough?! The exhibition runs through this Thursday so you have two days to see it. RUN to the Phyllis Morris Gallery and then you’ll really be swooning. Lynda, Trixie! I can totally see that. As for the poodle lamp, should you stumble upon it make sure and post it at awmok.com.

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