Interviewed by Less Lee Moore
I first became aware of Vicki Berndt via her Margaret Keane-inspired art for the Redd Kross Third Eye album. Then I started noticing that she was credited on photos for almost every other band I loved in the 90s.
She’s a devoted fan of music and pop culture, not to mention an innovative visual artist, so I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for this issue of Popshifter. Her DIY attitude towards art and music is inspirational.
Popshifter: The first question I have is presumably something you get asked a lot, and that’s having to do with the Margaret Keane, Eden, etc. “Big Eye” paintings, which you’re really well-known for. Did this start when you were younger? Or did you get more into this later when you started painting? What is it that prompted your fandom of this style?
Vicki Berndt: When I was a kid it was right at the height of the whole Keane-mania where it was everywhere—everybody had one in their house—so it was something that I grew up with. You know, when you’re a little kid, you don’t think, “Oh, kitsch! Future thrift store items!” I just thought they were really cute and I was a fan of them on the level of a seven-year old. It’s kind of like Hello Kitty is now; it was that much of it everywhere. It was something I was always aware of and just loved, but not in a retro kitschy way. Until way later when you could find them in thrift stores. But 90 percent of the people [who remember them] are like (adopts condescending tone) “Oh, I remember that.” And then ten percent are like, “Oh, I remember those, those are genius!”
I didn’t collect them or have a house full of them or anything. When Redd Kross was going to make their Third Eye record [in 1990], Jeff McDonald asked, “Do you think you could paint us as Keane paintings?” And I said, “I could do that, sure!” And then I started thinking, “You’re gonna try and make it look like the person, but their eyes are 100 percent larger.” So it was kind of a test; you had to learn how to do it.
And also it was like, “Oh, and we need those next month” so there was no time! I remember just painting them 24/7. That’s how I started doing those. And then it was so much fun doing them, and people were saying, “I want to see myself in a Keane-style ‘Big Eye’ painting; can you do one for me?” I could do it well enough that people liked it and it resembled them even though their eyes were bigger.
Popshifter: Now I’ve seen your Cheap Trick paintings which are done in a similar style, which are just amazing. Did you do that because you’re a big fan of theirs? Have they seen them?
Vicki Berndt: I did those for a married couple, Kent and Selina. They actually used to run the Redd Kross fan club, about ten years ago.
Popshifter: Was this the one that was in Florida? I was in that and I still have one of the T-shirts!
Vicki Berndt: Yeah! They designed all the T-shirts and put the magazine together and everything. They actually live in L.A. now. The wife is a huge Cheap Trick fan, and as a surprise. . . I think it was a birthday present? Her husband contacted me about doing a Cheap Trick painting, but referencing the Redd Kross painting. Which I loved because I love Cheap Trick, too; I’m a huge fan. I was like, “That’s the best idea ever!” And I was so excited to do it.
A lot of times when I’m painting I’m referencing other people, or other people’s paintings, so I got to do a painting referencing my own self.
Popshifter: So it’s like ultra self-reflexive.
Vicki Berndt: Yeah, I was like, “Wow! It’s full-circle.” Now I’m referencing myself referencing Margaret Keane. I was really happy to do them and she was so pleased with them.
That was a custom job; people can contact my website and get a custom portrait done. Usually it’s them. . . and their cat, or their wife, their dog, whatever. But this one was really unusual and really fun to do.
Click to read more from Vicki Berndt on. . .