- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) - There are understandably a number of Margaret Keane paintings in the previews for the biopic about the artist that opened in movie theaters this week.

Many of them can also be found in the Logansport home of Deborah Koch.

“If you watch the trailer, almost every one of those pictures that they show are in this room,” she said in the living area of her basement.

Twenty-six lithographs and prints of Keane’s paintings depicting children whose sad faces are dominated by large eyes cover the room’s walls.

Some of the children have tears running down their cheeks. Others cling to small animals. All of them appear to be consumed by an unrelenting sense of sorrow.

It’s an emotion the 87-year-old Keane may have experienced as a young painter when her husband was taking credit for her work, a struggle that makes up the plot of the new film “Big Eyes.” It’s certainly an emotion sparked by events in Koch’s past, she said, adding for her the works serve as a healthy way for her to relate and reflect.

Keane told “The Guardian” in an interview published in October 2014 she felt trapped when her husband, Walter Keane, started taking credit for all her paintings in the 1950s and 1960s.

“In the early 60s, women weren’t really recognized as artists, men were,” Koch told the Pharos-Tribune (https://bit.ly/1rs3lZw ) . “So he convinced her that this is the way it would have to be.”

The article goes on to tell of the millions of dollars Margaret Keane’s prints and postcards were making under Walter Keane’s name. Despite never seeing any of the money, she continued to paint through her husband’s threats and pressures to complete more. This continued even after their divorce.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that she revealed the truth to a journalist. When she sued her ex-husband, the judge challenged both of them to paint in court. Margaret Keane finished hers in less than an hour while Walter Keane said a sore shoulder prevented him from participating. Margaret Keane was awarded $4 million in the suit her ex-husband couldn’t afford to pay. He passed away in 2000.

Walter Keane’s deception lasted long after his death. When Koch started collecting the paintings about 15 years ago, she thought he was the one behind the sad, saucer-sized eyes, as many of the works listed him as the artist on the websites she bought them from. Several of the prints in her home have plaques naming Walter Keane.

Collecting them became a hobby for Koch for more than a decade before they became the subject of Tim Burton’s latest film.

“They weren’t expensive so I didn’t go crazy spending money on them,” she said.

But they remained in their tubes, as there wasn’t any room in her former home in Kentucky to hang them. It wasn’t until she met her husband, Gary Koch, and moved to Logansport that she got the wall space to put them on display.

“They looked awful sad to me,” Gary Koch said, adding he helped hang the paintings that replaced much of the room’s former Western ambiance.

That’s exactly why Deborah Koch likes them.

“These are the windows of her eyes - her paintings are - through children and life in the world,” she said. “She saw it as being sad and she used children to represent the sadness.”

They remind her of the sadness she’s experienced in her own life, she continued.

“I’ve had multiple issues, things that I’ve gone through in my lifetime that are horrific,” Koch said. “I think that’s kind of why I attach to them, because I was sad and they were sad.”

Her favorite is “Tomorrow Forever,” which is made up of 100 of Keane’s hallmark children lined up on a stairway that divides a barren landscape under a dark sky.

Koch said it’s been the most prized in her collection ever since she recognized one of the children as the lone subject of another Keane painting in her home. She described realizing the resemblance as a pleasant surprise when getting “Tomorrow Forever” framed.

She hasn’t purchased one of Keane’s works in about seven years, she said, but pursuing her other collections of portraits of movie stars and musicians and African tribal masks have kept her just as busy.

And while she hasn’t gotten any more, she hasn’t decided to have any less either.

“I’m real happy that I have them now and I have no plans on selling any of them,” Koch said. “It’s my own little art gallery.”


Information from: Pharos-Tribune, https://www.pharostribune.com

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