The cynical artist with the facile hands and a powerful lust for business, Thomas Kinkade, has died. He was 54.
The controversial Christian and jillionaire will not be missed. It’s a sorry shame he didn’t die a day earlier. He was a gifted man who seduced and repulsed the world with his portraits of incandescent treacle. He trademarked himself “Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light.” He may have mass-produced and sold as many as ten million paintings.
Though he may have rivaled only Andy Warhol for success in the business of art, he was neither satisfied nor respected. He was angry at critics and frequently drunk.
[Kinkade's Media Arts Group executive John] Dandois also said of Kinkade, “Thom would be fine, he would be drinking, and then all of a sudden, you couldn’t tell where the boundary was, and then he became very incoherent, and he would start cursing and doing a lot of weird stuff like touching himself.” On 11 June 2010, Kinkade was arrested in Carmel, California on suspicion of driving while under the influence of alcohol.
He thought Pablo Picasso was lame. Kinkade believed himself to be great because he outsold everyone else, as if that were important. Creating factories to produce his ‘paintings’ wasn’t relevant, but you’re welcome to admire that too. His art was licensed to the likes of Wal-Mart and Hallmark for calendars, puzzles, CDs, greeting and gift cards. Have some more:
His arrogance extended to creating entire Thomas Kinkade towns. In 2002, Salon‘s Janelle Brown visited “The Village at Hiddenbrooke, A Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light™ Community.”
Kinkade has parlayed his fame into an entire country-cottage industry of Kinkade-licensed products, as seen on QVC — home furnishings, La-Z-Boy chairs and sofas, wallpaper, linens, china, stationery sets, Hallmark greeting cards and so on . . The Village at Hiddenbrooke bills itself as the culmination of Kinkade’s vision: an actual manifestation of the quaint cottages, charming gazebos and inspiring landscapes in his artwork.
Except that it isn’t. What you find in the rolling hills behind Vallejo is the exact opposite of the Kinkadeian ideal. Instead of quaint cottages, there’s generic tract housing; instead of lush landscapes, concrete patios; instead of a cozy village, there’s a bland collection of homes with nothing — not a church, not a cafe, not even a town square — to draw them together.
Your first glimpse of Hiddenbrooke features four enormous satellite dishes and a radio tower, nestled in a green valley next to an oblivious troop of grazing cows from the adjacent farm. The second thing you see upon arrival in Hiddenbrooke is an endless stretch of the community’s semi-identical greige tract homes, squeezed in close.
Hiddenbrooke is still around. Many of his hundreds of exclusive galleries are not. While it may have cost franchisees $100,000 or more to buy into the Kinkade trade, they labored to make the sort of money they were promised. They frequently encountered competition from a seemingly unscrupulous business competitor: Thomas Kinkade.
Kinkade’s company, Media Arts Group Inc., has been accused of unfair dealings with owners of Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery franchises. In 2006, an arbitration board awarded Karen Hazlewood and Jeffrey Spinello $860,000 in damages and $1.2 million in fees and expenses due to Kinkade’s company “[failing] to disclose material information” that would have discouraged them from investing in the gallery. The award was later increased to $2.8 million with interest and legal fees. The plaintiffs and other former gallery owners have also leveled accusations of being pressured to open additional galleries that were not financially viable, being forced to take on expensive, unsalable inventory, and being undercut by discount outlets whose prices they were not allowed to match.
The unfortunates felt victimized not only for the loss of income, but for a kind of spiritual betrayal.
Former gallery dealers also charged that Kinkade uses Christianity as a tool to take advantage of people. “They really knew how to bait the hook,” said one ex-dealer who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They certainly used the Christian hook.” One former dealer’s lawyer stated “Most of my clients got involved with Kinkade because it was presented as a religious opportunity. Being defrauded is awful enough, but doing it in the name of God is really despicable.” On June 2, 2010, Pacific Metro, the artist’s production company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, one day after defaulting on a $1 million court imposed payment to the aforementioned Karen Hazlewood and Jeffrey Spinello. A $500,000 payment had previously been disbursed.
A.S. Hamrah, writing in The Baffler, detailed the impact his life would have on others:
“Kinkade is a living testament to how the triumph of kitsch values has repercussions in the marketplace, outside the world of taste.”
Thomas Kinkade, dead at 54. Bury him deep.