Unexpected Death Raises Questions as Fans Mourn 'Painter of Light'

Russ Jones | Christian Press | Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Unexpected Death Raises Questions as Fans Mourn 'Painter of Light'

He was known as the “Painter of Light,” but the peculiar circumstances around the death of successful artist Thomas Kinkade have revealed a darker side of the painter’s life apparently littered with grief and brokenness.

While Kinkade’s girlfriend, Amy Pinto, said the famous painter "died in his sleep [April 6], very happy, in the house he built, with the paintings he loved, and the woman he loved,” according to a recording on FireScan.net, a “54-year-old male, unconscious, not breathing ... apparently [has] been drinking all night and not moving … CPR in progress.”

Hues of a Darker Color

The conflicting reports seem to reflect a similar troubled past for the California native. Various investigative reports in publications like The Stir say Kinkade conducted “inappropriate behavior with women and urinated on a Winnie the Pooh statue at Disneyland, allegations of defrauding investors and other business and legal troubles, a separation from his wife, and a DUI.”

Described as an American painter of popular realistic, bucolic and idyllic subjects, Kinkade at the time of his death owed about $9 million to roughly 165 creditors. Court documents find his firm Pacific Metro, LLC, filed bankruptcy June 2, 2010.

America's most collected living artist was popular among evangelical Christians. Most of his paintings emphasized simple pleasures and inspirational messages.

In pieces created before his divorce, Kinkade creatively filled his art with "love notes" by hiding the letter "N" in his painting as a tribute to his former wife, Nanette. His daughters also find their own messages of love from their father as their names and images often appear in many of his paintings.

“I think Kinkade painted the Eden that we are all homesick for,” said Pat Ward, pastor of the Orchard Church in Oxford, Miss. “I think that the reason I'm drawn into the story is that we saw just how far away from Eden we live sometimes, no matter how much we love it.  That was obviously true for Thomas Kinkade, but it's true for me too at times.”

More Releases Expected

At the Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery in Branson, Mo., the local response has been overwhelming. Branson, known as the “Live Music” capital, averages roughly 8 million visitors a year. Mel Bilbo has owned the gallery for 8 years and says the store has been deluged with shoppers.

“The day after Kinkade’s death was the busiest I have ever seen,” Bilbo said. “Some art critics don’t like his work, but Kinkade didn’t paint for them, he painted for those who appreciated his work.”

During a recent conference call with gallery owners, Bilbo says company leaders reinforced the stability and longevity of the estate.

“There are many paintings in the vault that haven’t been released,” said Bilbo, who owns the only Thomas Kinkade gallery in the Show Me State. “The gallery has no intentions of closing and we expect to introduce new paintings and products for years to come.”

Kinkade’s brother Patrick told the San Jose Mercury News the painter had been "in his studio painting religiously, but attacks on his work and the breakdown of his marriage caused a relapse into alcohol abuse the past four to five years."

The artist was arrested near Carmel in 2010 on suspicion of drinking under the influence of alcohol and booked into Monterey County Jail. He later pleaded no contest.

A Painter of the People

Kinkade’s Disney paintings are among his best selling pieces since such statistics have been recorded. Disneyland approached Kinkade with the idea of painting a commemorative 50th anniversary piece celebrating what has been dubbed “the happiest place on Earth.”

Since Walt Disney was his biggest hero, Kinkade accepted the invitation setting up his easel on Main Street where he began work on his future masterpiece of the Sleeping Beauty Castle complete with decorations, flags, and banners celebrating Disneyland's 50th anniversary. His first Disney piece was released in 2005.

Neal Paton, a collector of Disney memorabilia and art, says he has appreciated Kinkade’s work for years. His personal collection includes a large Kinkade gallery proof, “Disneyland's 50th Anniversary.”

“Many people don't know that his paintings' ‘coloring’ changes are based on the levels of light that shine on each picture, which is why his galleries use dimmers on their overhead lighting,” Paton said.

Kinkade painted his family as some of the bystanders, including Thom himself, his brother Pat, his former wife Nanette and his four daughters: Merritt, Chandler, Winsor and Everett. In addition, there are 50 hidden Mickey Mouse ears throughout the piece.

“It is a shame that such a talented person had so many issues to work through in his life,” Paton said. “However, I believe we all have a certain level of our own issues to deal with. It's just that ours aren't normally plastered all over the news. I wonder how we would behave if they were?”

As if personal problems were not enough, some critics call his work “pop art,” condemning his painting, but galleries like the one in Branson contend Kinkade didn’t paint to receive the praise from industry elites.

“Most artists paint for themselves,” said Bilbo. "Thomas painted for the people. He was disappointed if each new canvas didn’t touch the heartstrings of someone.”

The Santa Clara County coroner’s office says the painter’s cause of death and autopsy results will not be released for several more weeks.

Russ Jones is a 20-year award-winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com and a media consultant to a number of political and cause-oriented campaigns. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at [email protected]

Publication date: April 17, 2012

Unexpected Death Raises Questions as Fans Mourn 'Painter of Light'