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.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape