BLOG*April 9, 2012
Kinkade at Comic Con 2010

Whilst studying at Art Center College of Design I met a fellow student who rode a motorcycle to school, dressed in dark clothes and always sported a leather jacket. He reminded me of the Fonz in the television sitcom Happy Days. Thomas Kinkade was only at Art Center for about a year but he definitely left an impression. He would tell me stories of hopping trains (like a hobo) with another student James Gurney (Dinotopia fame) to create plein air paintings in the countryside, then hop the train back home. Upon returning he shared these little painted gems of landscapes with me that reflected a passion and intuitive understanding of natural light.

He disappeared from school and it was not until almost a decade later in 1989 that I ran into him at a New York Society of Illustrators event. Now he was married, a born again christian, and dressed in a very conservative suit. Whoa, what happened to the Fonz?! Bringing me up to speed on his rising success advertising his art in magazines like House and Garden, Kinkade proceeded to show me one of his iconic Cottage paintings hanging on the wall of the gallery. Whoa, again! This was not my idea of great art, but it did show his ongoing fascination with capturing unique qualities of light.

Fast forward another decade and the “painter of light,” grew into franchised galleries filled with reproduced artwork and spin-off products in excess. His paintings/prints ranged in cost from hundreds of dollars to more than $10,000. At it’s peak Kinkade’s Media Arts Group, once a publicly traded company, took in $32 million per quarter from 4,500 dealers across the country! Talk about a large niche market.

Art critics despised the work, but this was not a concern for Kinkade. Ultimately time will determine what great art is anyway. In the meantime, if you are making art you love and selling it to fans, patrons and collectors who cares? Is the art kitsch? It is a sell out? If your art is aligned with your authentic purpose then these are irrelevant questions. Kinkade was perfectly aligned with his vision.

Did he make mistakes with over marketing and selling his work? Absolutely!

Whether it was ignorance or greed, 4,500 dealers selling your craft is a huge error in judgement. When you have too much of anything being made or manufactured it will create a glut in the market dropping in value. In 2010 Kinkade was dealing with lawsuits and filing for bankruptcy. He was also struggling with other personal challenges which appeared to reflect a life out of balance.

It was during the 2010 Comic Con that Kinkade stopped by my booth to say hello. He gave me a recap of the past twenty years, the good and bad, the successes and mistakes. At one point he became very enthusiastic about a micro-chip that can be placed into an art print or other limited edition object essentially removing the possibility of someone counterfeiting your artwork. Overall he was very positive and  looking to the future. I enjoyed seeing him.

He was 54 years old when he died last Friday. I reminisced on my career and wondered what pulling in $100 million dollars a year making my own art would have looked like. I had a hard time imagining it.

It is obvious he didn’t!

As of yesterday one of his galleries just sold a painting for $150,000.

Whatever your opinion is on Kinkade as an artist, as a business person, or as a person will not change the fact that he made an indelible mark on millions of people who own his work. He loved what he was doing and it resonated with a HUGE group of supporters. It took time for him to build up those numbers, but he believed in his vision and never stopped promoting.

Onward and upward,