A new episode of The Magpie Tale
The Oyl twins of Antwerp — Canola and Bebe — don’t take kindly to jokes about their names. Indeed their parents were followers of Popeye which was very popular when they were born sometime during the great war.
Bebe, whose real name was Evette, was born 17 minutes after Canola gravitated to her descriptive new name as the youngest of the seven Oyl children. Early on, they had a talent for arranging things. Bebe was a modestly talented painter, and Canola was a gifted writer. But their artistry and collaboration collided elegantly as they arranged flowers, scarves, and centerpieces.
After dropping out of art school they took a job FNAC first as inventory clerks but quickly managed to convince the manager to let them design one of the windows for Passover. The rest was history. Their edgy, innovative, and often controversial. Their Crucifix made of Peeps was condemned by the Vatican one Easter, and their Santa dyed with pig’s blood was just as controversial.
By the time they were in their mid-20s they left FNAC for Verso and later Inno where they signed a 20 year exclusive contract. In the 1980s, they were approached by both Calvin Klein and Kenneth Cole for their European lines but turned both down despite increasingly lucrative offers.
In 1990s, a joint commission from the Louvre and the Guggenheim featured their “greatest hits” and broke new ground — the first time window designs were treated as fine art. “Combining the best elements of Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, and Max Ernst,” wrote Louise Stryker in Art Forum, “the Oyls raise the question of what is the line between commerce and art.”
While many felt the Oyls had lost their edge in the early 21st Century, they gained praise and scorn simultaneously in 2007 when they began their water series. Featuring primarily images of women drowning, the disturbing but beautiful displays were debated in the media and academia for their presentation of the subjugation and strength of women.
Perhaps the paradox of this series was summed up in an editorial by Helmut Veux in the International Herald Tribune, “At the end of the day, these new Oyl works raise a basic question: will these help sell more swimsuits this summer?”