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
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions