The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
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    Extinguishing Kinkade

    My wife is a sometime painter. She's done a striking reinterpretation of a Georgia O'Keeffe flower, several flowers she photographed herself, and even a portrait of me (that never gets older). She works long and patiently on each canvas. Around 2002, maybe, we walked by a gallery, and she pointed and said, "Those are by Thomas Kinkade." "Who?" "The Painter of Light." "Oh." As I recall, they were very bright paintings of yellow flowers with sunlight streaming across them—helped by a few downlights. "So ... is it that all his paintings are brightly lit?" "Yeah, pretty much." They were good paintings—I've seen a lot worse in gallery windows—but I wondered about the pretentious nickname.

    Kinkade was also known for his idyllic landscapes. Someone told me that there was some controversy because Kinkade didn't actually paint all the paintings he sold as "Kinkades." I love poster art—Mucha's Cigarette Paper Women, the Normandie, Klimt's Kiss, etc.—so reproductions don't bother me, but the Painter of Light seemed to be doing something else altogether:

    THOMAS KINKADE's 100,000-square-foot headquarters here is hardly a typical artist's atelier. But then Mr. Kinkade, arguably the most commercially successful painter of the 1990's, is hardly a typical artist.

    In a large room lined with industrial sinks, dozens of workers in aprons and galoshes dunk reproductions of Mr. Kinkade's latest painting in water, peel off the paper backing and glue the flower-and-sunbeam-spangled landscape to stretched canvas. Down the hall, another room is filled with workers sitting before long rows of the canvas-backed reproductions, amplifying the picture's luminescent light effects by adding dots and squiggles of paint.

    In a smaller studio nearby, three ''master highlighters'' trained personally by Mr. Kinkade do the same thing with more finesse and a wider range of colors. And in the vast warehouse out back, hundreds more people mat, frame, pack and ship the finished pictures to the 248 Thomas Kinkade galleries in malls and tourist Meccas all over the United States, where they'll be sold to eager collectors for anywhere from $600 to $10,000 and up.

    Kinkade was wildly successful starting galleries and selling middlebrow art. "Kinkades" looked like real paintings, were fairly well composed, and often espoused Christian themes. He considered his work 'uplifting' rather than 'critical' or 'challenging'.

    But Kinkade recently died at only 54 after slipping back into alcoholism, possibly drinking himself to death one evening. He was separated from his childhood sweetheart wife and four daughters—Merritt, Chandler, Winsor and Everett, all of whom share the middle name Christian—and living with a girlfriend. He had suffered some business reversals, but was still enormously wealthy. His behavior, though, took a dark turn.

    a three-member panel of the American Arbitration Assn. ordered his company to pay $860,000 for defrauding the former owners of two failed Virginia galleries. That decision marks the first major legal setback for Kinkade, who won three previous arbitration claims. Five more are pending.

    ... Former gallery owners, ex-employees and others say his personal behavior also belies the wholesome image on which he's built his empire. In sworn testimony and interviews, they recount incidents in which an allegedly drunken Kinkade heckled illusionists Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas, cursed a former employee's wife who came to his aid when he fell off a barstool, and palmed a startled woman's breasts at a signing party in South Bend, Ind.

    ... Kinkade's proclivity for "ritual territory marking," ... allegedly manifested itself in the late 1990s outside the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. "This one's for you, Walt," the artist quipped late one night as he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure, ...

    That last part was funny because Kinkade also did paintings for Disney, featuring their characters and reproducing scenes from their animated films. Painting The Lion King can hardly have helped his reputation in the serious art world. Kinkade claimed not to care about criticism, but his brother blamed mean-spirited critics for the painter's personal decline.

    Kinkade compared himself to Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell, expecting that he would similarly overcome critical disdain to become a beloved icon of popular art.




    Rockwell is a far more accomplished draughtsman, though, and while I prefer Mucha to Parrish, all three tell far more interesting stories in their work than Kinkade. With his death, his paintings are selling well, but I'd rather buy something with a lot more original brushwork.


    If you have the picture of yourself and it happens to be displayed behind a thick dark velvet sheet, does that make you Do(r)n(i)a(n)l Grey?

    No Kinkade was no Parrish or Rockwell, of this I am quite sure.

    Unfortunately, it is only the painting that never gets older. I see you, OTOH, completing all those long bike rides.

    Is the painting going out on the town and living a life of debauchery, while you age?

    It's true, I want to be Dorian Grey. Dorien Grey on a bicycle of course.

    No comment laughcheekywink

    oh what the heck, I will say this: forget the comparisons with Rockwell, Mucha and Parrish, a more accurate comparison is here, a guy with comparable "talent" and working in a similar style, but with a far more congenial personality (Not to mention better hair? I have a fond memories of how he used to say things like oh let's see, let's put some little happy little cloud guys here, here's where some happy little clouds want to live ) devil

    Ha! Good old Bob Ross, Painter of Happy.

    You dumbass, that was Ross who said those things, no Kinkade

    I think someone needs to go climb a happy little tree.

    Let's put in some dark clouds over here, just push your brush down, oh look...they're dumping rain all over unverified anonymous...

    Damian Hirst doesn't do all of his own work either. It's his vision, for what it's worth (not a fan) but he has people for the production of many of his artifacts.  And that's not so unusual in art, apparently.

    I don't build my own buildings, either. Not lately anyway. And as I mentioned before Marcel Duchamp once signed a commercial urinal and presented it as a work of art. And even the great painters used to have helpers doing the ears, and so on. But I think Kinkade removed himself to a far greater extent. And I think the vision was shallow. We'll see in a few decades if Kinkade art is still worth anything.

    Van Gogh's Ear Guy was one of the toughest jobs in the art world for awhile.

    Vincent: I've had to make some cuts.

    Ear Guy: Can't hear you ...

    I don't think you can compare Duchamp's concept of Readymades with hiring a staff to do your painting for you.  With Duchamp, the whole point was that he, as the artist, was taking something that already existed and changing the context in which it is held, and that is what made it art.  It forced people to step outside their pre-conceived notions and look at an object from a different perspective..  By turning the urinal upside down and calling it "Fountain", he got people to see the beauty of the form of an everyday object. That was a radical idea in 1917.  Duchamp's conceptual vision is what resonates, not the fact that he didn't make the urinal, but bought it in a plumbing supply store. It's what he did with the Readymade that made it art.  Kinkade's vision was not in the idea or concept but in the craft, a craft which he farmed out to assistants. In my opinion, there's a very big difference between the two.

    but his brother blamed mean-spirited critics for the painter's personal decline.

    As someone who is currently in intensive out-patient treatment for alcoholism, and has been struggling with recovery for a decade now, I would say his brother is deep denial.  Family members of alcoholics and all other addicts can fall into making excuses like blaming others.  Kinkade has a medical disease with pyscho-emotional and physiological facets.  He unfortunately did not embrace the treatment options available to those who suffer from this affliction. 

    Of course it is possible the critics held him down and made him consume the alcohol.

    It's a poisonous way to get high.

    Some people say Kinkade's art was unoriginal and hacky. But at least unoriginal hacks can't be blamed for coming up with the bad ideas.

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