‘Painter of Light’ Thomas Kinkade dies aged 54

Thomas Kinkade – the artist who dubbed himself the Painter of Light – died aged 54 on Friday (6 April) in his home in the San Francisco Bay area of California from natural causes.

Friendship Cottage - Thomas Kinkade

I wasn’t sure whether to cover this because, as this is a blog and not a news site, mentioning the artist generally leads on to a discussion of his work. Ultimately, Kinkade global presence and success meant I thought I should write the post, but I want to point out that I’m not wishing to jump on the man’s grave, merely add my own take on his work and see what others think in return.

Kinkade specialised in the sort of idyllic/nostalgic light-bathed pictures you can see above and below and, to put it bluntly, it’s a style I have very little time for.

The soubriquet ‘Painter of Light’ was one he seemed keen to embrace on both a real and a metaphorical level. He painted scenes flooded with warm light but also, as he told the San Jose Mercury News in 2002, “I’m trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel.”

I worry sometimes that I’m being snobbish, dismissing Kinkade (and others) as simply creating ‘chocolate box’ art. But because of that worry I’ve ended up trying to give the pictures a fair appraisal – so why don’t I like them? Am I just being wilfully anti-populist?

I don’t think I am.

What I do think is that he and I disagree (or disagreed) fundamentally about what his work was capable of doing – what fans of his painting find moving or uplifting I find superficial and uninspiring. He seemed to rely on his great skill in capturing light effects to convey depth and emotion, as if bathing a scene in warm light could create a kind of richness or soulfulness not actually present in the subject. I also think that because I used to work in a store which sold his works as jigsaws I would see them en masse and become acutely aware of the repetition in his work. Where others see heartfelt positivity and a lack of cynicism, I see a mass market aesthetic being honed.

You can see a little of what I mean in the screengrab from one of his retailers’ online stores below:

Thomas Kinkade selection - jigsawpuzzlesdirect.co.uk

For a verdict from the opposite end of the spectrum, his official site‘s most recent biography states:

Thom continues to create inspiring, moving, and compelling art adding to a life’s work that is a testament to the confluence of passion, talent, and creativity with which Thom has been blessed. We trust his images will move you as profoundly as we are moved everyday by images that capture the imagination and move the soul.

I’m genuinely interested to hear what others think of him and whether any of you are fans of his work?

Victorian Christmas - Thomas Kinkade