Self-styled “painter of light” Thomas Kinkade died last week, as the Sunday New York Times obits duly noted:
Thomas Kinkade, the prolific painter of bucolic and idealized scenes who estimated that his mass-produced works hung in one out of 20 American homes, died on Friday at his home in Los Gatos, Calif. He was 54.
Mr. Kinkade referred to himself as the “painter of light,” usually with a trademark symbol, for naturalistic scenes with highlights that appeared to glow. Often his canvases were mass-produced prints to which he added small, brightly toned details. He made no apologies for commercializing the art field, comparing himself to million-sellers in, say, music and literature.
Yes but he was no Charles Dickens, as Susan Orlean’s 2001 New Yorker takedown painstakingly illustrated (via Longform):
By and large, art critics consider Thomas Kinkade a commercial hack whose work is mawkish and suspiciously fluorescent, and whose genius is not for art but for marketing — for creating an “editions pyramid” of his prints, each level up a little more expensive, which whips up collectors’ appetites the way retiring Beanie Babies did. This view annoys Kinkade no end, and he will talk your ear off — even talk through the company’s strictly enforced one-hour interview limit — about the ugliness and nihilism of modern art and its irrelevance compared to the life-affirming populism of his work. He will point out that he has built the largest art-based company in the history of the world, and that ten million people have purchased a Kinkade product, at one of three hundred and fifty Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries that carry his limited-edition prints, or through his Web site, or at one of the five thousand retail outlets that sell Kinkade-licensed products, including cards, puzzles, mugs, blankets, books, La-Z-Boys, accessory pieces, calendars, and night-lights. Last year, Media Arts Group had a hundred and thirty-two million dollars in revenues. It has been traded — first on the Nasdaq, then on the New York Stock Exchange — since 1994, making Kinkade the only artist to be a small-cap equity issue. He owns thirty-seven per cent of the company, which makes him, by his calculations, one of the wealthiest artists in the world.
Of course, if you’re the one out of 20 Americans whose home is festooned with a Kinkade, please feel free to contact the hardworking staff at the speed of light.