Thomas Kinkade: US artist whose populist works sold by the million

 

Thomas Kinkade was America's most prolific and successful popular artist of the last 100 years. Calling himself the "Painter of Light", a term he trademarked, he claimed to have an example of his work in one in 20 of the country's homes. Kinkade turned the production of his sentimentally themed paintings, prints and posters, mugs and calendars into an enterprise, the Media Arts Group, which made him over $50m between 1997 and 2005. Explaining his motivation, he said, "There's been million-seller books and million-seller CDs. But there hasn't been, until now, million-seller art. We have found a way to bring to millions of people an art that they can understand."

Kinkade was born in Placerville, California in 1958. In an interview with Larry King, he recalled the advice given to him in childhood: "When I was a young boy, my mother told me, 'Your talents are God's gifts to you, and what you do with those talents are your gift to God'."

In 1980, after studying at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, he embarked on a road trip across America with his friend James Gurney. His public artistic career began with the publication two years later of The Artist's Guide to Sketching, co-authored with Gurney, which became a bestseller. The following year he worked at the Ralph Bakshi Studios on scenic backgrounds for the production of the animated feature film Fire and Ice.

Kinkade began by producing original oil paintings, but his breakthrough came around 1984, when he and his wife, Nanette, devised a plan to sell reproductions of his works via nationwide sales campaigns. With publicity via TV and magazine adverts, he would promote works through launch parties at regional galleries, marketing the pictures as a lifestyle choice and investment opportunity.

In recent years he had trained artists as "Master Highlighters", who would take prints of his work on tour and add layers of oil paint at public gallery events. In this way, he could extend the reach of his name and increase availability of the pictures, while maintaining an element of hand-finishing. On the overall theme of his body of work, he said: "For many millions, my art provides an escape from the pressures of contemporary life and a gentle affirmation of such foundational values as home, family, faith and simpler ways of living."

Many of the pictures would begin through painting directly from nature, a subject which was explored in The Artist in Nature: Thomas Kinkade and the Plein Air Movement (2002) by M Stephen Dougherty, with an introduction by Kinkade. His illumination technique was inspired by the 19th century German-American artist Albert Bierstadt.

The essayist Joan Didion wrote in her 2003 memoir: "This 'Kinkade Glow' could be seen as derived in spirit from the 'lustrous, pearly mist' that Mark Twain had derided in the Bierstadt paintings, and, the level of execution to one side, there are certain unsettling similarities between the two painters." She goes on to suggest that the light effect used in his depiction of buildings was "...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."

Others spoke more positively of the luminosity of his paintings and of his personality. "He had a rare ability to exude a sense of warmth, a transcendent light," said Robert Goodwin, who wrote the book Points of Light: A Celebration of the American Spirit of Giving (2006) with Kinkade. Jeffrey Vallance, who hosted a show of Kinkade's work in Santa Ana, California, also countered the critics. "In their minds," he said, "he represented the lowest type of art... He was different from other artists. You kind of felt like he was giving people what they wanted."

The life of the Painter of Light had some darker periods. In 2003 his company was sued by gallery owners Karen Hazlewood and Jeff Spinello, who claimed that Kinkade overestimated the potential business benefits of selling his artworks. Three years later they were awarded over $2.8m in damages and legal fees. One of his companies filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Kinkade was prosecuted for drink-driving a few months later.

He received a number of awards, including several Artist of the Year prizes from the National Association of Limited Edition Dealers. His charitable work included being a spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and collaborating with Art for Children.

Kinkade said of his life and work: "I'm a warrior for light... With whatever talent and resources I have, I'm trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel."

Marcus Williamson

Thomas Kinkade, artist: born Placerville, California 19 January 1958; married 1982 Nanette (four daughters); died Los Gatos, California 6 April 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test