Back in April 2001, Alison M. Rosen wrote a cover story for the Weekly (available at the moment only through Google cache) on her inexplicable fondness for the work of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light™. She knew that Kinkade belonged on "a list of people you, as an enlightened individual, are not allowed to like", and she knew why. His paintings "most of which are überquaint street scenes from a time when things were simpler, home was sweet and where the heart was, and people knew the value of a hearty mug of homemade soup, etc." are "bullshit" and "the painterly equivalent of really evil Velveeta". But there's a difference, of course, between what one knows and what one feels:
He adorns his paintings with those stupid Christian fish, espouses "family values" that I find simplistic and kind of scary, blends art and commerce in a way that smacks of crass commercialism, and yet paints paintings ("portraits of light") that I really like. I mean, I really like them. Not ironically. And not just from afar. I have the calendar. I own the coffee-table book.
She didn't need to stop there. As a long story on Kinkade in today's Los Angeles Times points out: "His images adorn air fresheners, night lights, teddy bears, toys, tote bags, pillows, umbrellas and La-Z-Boy loungers, which one retailer's ad describes as 'something not merely to be acquired, but collected — like fine art itself.'"
As the Times explains in some detail, Alison was right when she speculated back in 2001 that "Thomas Kinkade The Businessman™ is probably a pretty calculating, repugnant person". But the real value of the Times story is how it expands our understanding of "Thomas Kinkade The Individual™".
Kinkade the Individual, Alison wrote,
appears to stand for everything with which I disagree, from the way he calls his paintings "silent messengers [of God's values] in the home" to the fact that he gives motivational speeches "on behalf of the traditional family" and his contempt for the art world and modernism... to his übercontrived just-folks persona. If I have to read one more time about how he wed his "childhood sweetheart" Nanette and how he tucks an "N" into each painting for her, I think I'm going to puke.
But appearances can be deceiving, and it seems that it's Kinkade's relationship with Nanette that involves a certain amount of puking. As the Times reveals:
In sworn testimony and interviews, [ex-employees and other associates] 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.
John Dandois, Kinkade's former senior director of retail operations, illuminates that magical evening in Las Vegas:
"I think it was Roy or Siegfried or whatever had a codpiece in his leotards," Dandois testified. "And so when the show started, Thom just started yelling, 'Codpiece, codpiece,' and had to be quieted by his mother and Nanette."
Drunken heckling an illusionist's genitals with not only your wife, but also your mother, at the table. It must have been a very special night.
To be fair to Kinkade, that evening does seem like a one-time thing. Normally when he's rip-roaring drunk, he likes to stare at women's genitals:
In testimony and interviews with The Times, Sheppard and other former employees said they often went with Kinkade to strip clubs and bars, where he frequently became intoxicated and out of control.
Of course, anyone can lose control in Vegas, where the economy depends on foolish behavior, or a strip club, Vegas on a microeconomic level, but it takes a special person to do it at the Happiest Place on Earth:
And then there is Kinkade's proclivity for "ritual territory marking," as he called it, which 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, said Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Kinkade's company, in an interview.
What adds an extra touch of charm to the story is that Kinkade was in OC to appear on the Reverend Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power" TV show, broadcast from the Crystal Cathedral.
While he's never revealed what he has against Walt Disney, Kinkade's questionable, and occasionally fraudulent, business practices have forced him testify under oath about his urinary habits.
In a deposition, the artist alluded to his practice of urinating outdoors, saying he "grew up in the country" where it was common. When pressed about allegedly relieving himself in a hotel elevator in Las Vegas, Kinkade said it might have happened.
"There may have been some ritual territory marking going on, but I don't recall it," he said.
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That's pretty typical of Kinkade under oath. And just like in his paintings, there's always room for a little cloying religious sentimentality in among the rest of the bad taste.
In the recent arbitration case, he also testified that he had never claimed to be perfect.
"Book of Ecclesiastes says enjoy yourself, have a glass of wine, for this is God's will for you," he said. "It's never consistent with God's will that we behave in a sinful way; however, God also loves us and accepts us and understands that at times we have our failings."
Ecclesiastes, I am reliably informed, says nothing about pissing on Winnie the Pooh.
I don't know if Thomas Kinkade's paintings will ever give me the "warm and cozy" feeling they give Alison Rosen, but I do know that after today, they will always make me smile.