By Michael Raffety
Mountain Democrat 4-9-12
Thomas Kinkade, the self-described ”Painter of Light,” died April 6 at his home in Los Gatos. He was 54. He reportedly died “of natural causes.”
Always said to be a religious man who credited God for his talent, he died on Good Friday.
Born in Sacramento in 1958, Kinkade moved to Placerville as a youth and graduated from El Dorado High School.
Kinkade first came to attention of this newspaper in the mid-1980s when he brought in a painting of a cloud-shrouded mountain scene that impressed everyone in the newsroom.
The next time we encountered Kinkade was in 1987 after this reporter printed Christmas cards of the Prouty barn on Green Valley Road in the snow to raise funds for the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (The barn later burned down.) Kinkade offered to do Christmas cards and prints for the Mountain Democrat. In exchange for selling a set number of prints and cards in 1988 the Democrat would retain ownership of the original oil painting.
It was a formula he had established previously while working with his former high school English teacher the late Gordon Purdy, who was president of Friends of Library. The library group sold enough prints to retain the painting and make money for the group. The painting of downtown Placerville at dusk in about 1916 hangs in the library. Kinkade did two other downtown Placerville paintings, one of Old Sacramento, several Victorian houses of Placerville and then branched out into other subjects. But each year he sold prints and Christmas cards in Placerville through most of the 1990s.
It was the Purdy-Friends deal that got him started in the print business and after that the arrangement with the Mountain Democrat really helped him launch his career. A 1989 article in Southwest Art on Kinkade by this writer brought him national attention.
Kinkade maintained a studio on Wallace Road near the Red Barn on Highway 49 just outside of Placerville, until he moved to Carmel.
Once he ran out of Placerville scenes for Christmas cards he started the series of cottages and generic Victorians, renaming each for the area in which he was selling prints – Placerville, Roseville, etc.
He painted so many cottages that they tended to blend together. Yet they remained popular, even forming the basis of a subdivision in Fairfield and lounge chairs.
The cottage paintings had their critics, though.
Said writer Joan Didion, “A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire. The cottages had thatched roofs, and resembled gingerbread houses. The houses were Victorian and resembled idealized bed-and-breakfasts … ”
Kinkade countered his critics with this statement on his Website: “There is no greater testament to Thom’s mission that art be accessible for everyone to enjoy than the millions of Kinkade images that grace the walls of homes across America and around the world. Through a myriad of genres, Thom’s ability to present his subject in an idyllic setting inspires the viewer to imagine the world full of beauty, intrigue, and adventure.”
A Kinkade print or print on canvas hangs in 1 in every 20 homes, according to a March 24, 2006, article in the Guardian of New York by Oliver Burkeman.
Kinkade attended UC Berkeley and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He then worked for the film industry painting backgrounds.
“Since that day over 25 years ago, Thom has painted over 1,000 masterworks covering topics that include, cabin and nature scenes, beautiful gardens, classic cottages, sports, inspirational content, lighthouses and powerful seascapes, impressionists, and classic Americana. Hidden in his paintings are messages that speak to Thom’s inspiration for each image. Whether including the initials of family members, hiding Disney characters, or imbedding hearts for special occasions and loved ones, each image contains treasures that add to their mystique,” his Website stated.
The Website further noted, “He has authored or has been the subject of over 140 books. He is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author.”
His subjects in the late 2000s have included Disney characters, race tracks, ball fields, the “Garden of Prayer,” the “Gazebo of Prayer,” “Gone with the Wind,” “Graceland” and the Biltmore in North Carolina. His city street scene reflects his travels – Carmel, Monterey, San Francisco, the California Capitol, Key West, New York, Paris, Latvia and Las Vegas, among others. Most of his street scenes employ single-point perspective. For 2012 he released his spring collection that included coffee mugs.
Another critic was Susan Orlean of the New Yorker, who wrote, “[One painting] features mountains and quiet shadows and the purple cloak of sunset, but it could just as easily have featured a lavishly blooming garden at twilight, or maybe a babbling brook spanned by a quaint stone bridge, or a lighthouse after a storm; it’s hard to distinguish one Kinkade from the next because their effect is so unvarying — smooth and warm and romantic, not quite fantastical but not quite real, more of a wishful and inaccurate rendering of what the world looks like, as if painted by someone who hadn’t been outside in a long time.”
“The No 1 quote critics give me is, ‘Thom, your work is irrelevant.’ Now, that’s a fascinating, fascinating comment. Yes, irrelevant to the little subculture, this microculture, of modern art. But here’s the point: My art is relevant because it’s relevant to 10 million people. That makes me the most relevant artist in this culture,” Kinkade said, according to the Guardian article.
In Monrovia, Metropolis writer Mark Ehrman noted that Kinkade never sells originals, but keeps them in his motorhome as a rolling museum for display when he sells prints.
Writing on June 9, 2006, Ehrman summed up Kinkade by writing, “More popular that an Egg McMuffin, more colorful than a pack of Skittles, the inspirational renderings of the ‘Painter of Light’ Thomas Kinkade have captured the hearts, minds and wall space of millions.”
But about that time dark clouds gathered around Kinkade, as once headline described it. In 2006 it was reported that he lost an arbitration award of $860,000 to two failed Virginia Kinkade galleries that claimed his company had defrauded them.
Later a $1 million and a $3 million judgment against him led to file bankruptcy for one of his companies in 2010. Two weeks later he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Carmel. He was 52.
One of those involved in the lawsuits was Terry Sheppard of Somerset, who reported incidents of public drunkenness and urination by Kinkade.
Nevertheless he kept churning out paintings, stained glass, coffee mugs, Nativity pieces, music boxes, carousels, plates and bowls for the next two years until his death Friday of “natural causes.” The Associated Press reported his art and byproducts brought in $100 million a year.
His wife Nanette and their four children will inherit the treasure trove of original oil paintings. With over 1,000 paintings, it is a priceless collection.