Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Kinkade File

Part I Thomas Kinkade or: How I learned to stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Part II. Due to Copyright Violation I Can No longer Title This “Painter of Light”
Aron Briggs

Part I. Thomas Kinkade or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

This is an exploration of the Kinkade Galleries. I will be looking for signs of what kind of person buys a Kinkade painting? The employees of the galleries will also be closely examined. The main question attempting to be answered in this paper is weather or not god is located inside the Kinkade gallery or In the Kinkade original painting? This requires a hands on experience of the California culture around the Kinkade art. The library and other conventional text sources commonly used by the art history department will offer limited to no informational value. The final goal is to get in to the mind of Kinkade and see what he sees in specific selected original works by him.

I have the book Thomas Kinkade Paintings of Radiant Light, by Thomas Kinkade as my companion at all times during my gallery visits. I use it for constant reference as his work is so purely subjective that it cannot be viewed without constant explanations by Kinkade.

The First gallery visit is the Art Center Gallery: fine art and custom framing in orange county at the Westminster Mall. The gallery is poorly lit with track lighting painted carelessly at or near the prints. The Kinkade book seems to despise this gallery as I immediately notice a word about lighting by Kinkade. Light generates hope. Sunlight Deprivation causes depression(Kinkade pg18). The walls of the gallery are scratched ugly and cheap mall walls. This the first chance for an up close analysis of the Kinkade style. Kinkade’s prints are also 3d casts of the brush strokes used to create the original paintings. In a river brush strokes suddenly pop out in contradiction to the flow of the water. The strokes are added apparently just for the sake of having brush strokes visible in the work but they are lacking any visual information from the brush stroke. The employees have piled prints in front of other prints with little care for any value they may hold.

The sales woman walks around me to help a family as they walk in. She explains they just missed a huge sale. This sale embodies the mass market qualities Kinkade’s prints take on. While leaving I notice a print of the tall ladies that always sold well at Aaron Brothers. My presence in the gallery was completely ignored even as I stood directly in the middle of the gallery while writing notes vigorously. I also take a business card for the gallery. It has the name Todd Rubin printed on it. I will inform him of the inferior quality of his gallery and employees.

Though Kinkade did get his Masters at the Art Center in Pasadena it is obvious that Southern California is not the culture of Kinkade’s art. So me and my assistant Nicole travel north to better get in touch with the culture of Kinkade. We get a room at the Madonna Inn to use as our headquarters for the trip. It is room 154 the Irish Hills room. Every inch of the room is green, there is a leprechaun statue and several paintings of red bearded Irish men. The overwhelming levels of kitsch aid in the studying of Kinkade’s art style.

The next gallery visited is in Morro Bay. It is a small gallery more like a snaking hallway then an actual space for viewing art. My assistant Nicole likes the baseball painting and the Bridge painting on display in the gallery. I am becoming a little concerned about her sanity but I keep that thought to myself. Mounted on the wall are little hummingbird sculptures with Kinkade style tiny scenes painted on them.

A small space off shoots from the hallway shaped gallery. It is filled with the Disney 50th anniversary paintings. A few large magnifying glasses are provided for closer examination of the works. This scene is hilariously similar to the Art gallery scene in the movie Synecdoche New York. Where the art work is so small it appears like tiny little squares until viewed through the magnifying glass to reveal an emotional painterly portrait.

It is apparent that Kinkade has branched out past just selling prints. Holographic Puzzles of the paintings are for sale along with plug in nightlight. Our presence is not ignored in this gallery. A very nice woman named Paula who is running the gallery, comes up to assist with my note taking. She is a tall, thin, well dressed lady with blond silver hair. There is a dark spot on her face that indicates her age very well. She is very happy to hear that I am an art student writing a paper on Thomas Kinkade and makes no effort to find out my opinion of Kinkade. Instead she begins to tell me as much as she can about Kinkade. She starts with the painting “Christmas Cottage” that is about Kinkade’s Christmas at home age 4. It is also referenced by a movie recently made about Kinkade, by Kinkade. This paradox reminds me of the “Autumn Gate” from the Kinkade book where he explains, “ in my day dreams I often return to the tranquil spot ill let my mind wonder back to my childhood in Northern California and the tranquil scenes I experienced” (Kinkade pg26). We look at “The Cross” made for the Billy Gram Library. Paula is close to giving a full history lesson on Kinkade. Kinkade’s Mom is going to lose her house but kinkade paints a mural for Placerville California to make two hundred dollars to save the house. I have no idea what painting she was even talking about at this point. But it seems as good a time as any to point out the fact that I also grew in Placerville though my childhood most likely held a lot less of that warm glow that Kinkade shows his as.

The effects of the dimmer switches implemented in the gallery are shown. On a painting of Morro Rock the sun suddenly sets as Paula dims the light with her switch. This is what Kinkade meant when he wrote. “People at peace by going in to the light of the painting (Kinkade pg19)

The painting “home town morning” is explained. There is an obvious Norman Rockwell influence but the book felt the need to reiterate that point(Kinkade pg11). It is a scene in Placerville from Kinkades child hood. He is shown on a bike delivering papers. Ahead on the sidewalk is Kinkade and his wife and kids. Walking the opposite direction is a man who refused to have Kinkade deliver his paper. Driving down the street is Norman Rockwell. Rockwell was a big part of his life he, Lived in Rockwells studio for two weeks.(Kinkade pg22). This is respectable because shows that he really is sincere in his love of the traditional style and committing his life to art. Kinkade relates a story in his book that seems very similar about burning of leaves on the curb when he was a kid. And how nostalgic he feels for that experience(Kinkade pg80). Coincidentally I was arrested at age 14 for burning a pile of leaves in a drainage ditch creek. A man came down and chased after me and my friend I was with.

The painting“Trusted Friend” is explained. It is kinkades oldest daughters favorite teddy bear. It was painted because both his older daughters had moved off to college. Toy blocks where stacked up showing the initials of his daughters. In the background is the books he would read to his daughters when they where kids.

The 50th anniversary Disney collection was started after kinkade visited the Disney vaults and was shown original character sketches. A Bambi painting is shown. Paula points out Kinkade hid his mom in the mountains. Mickey is hidden there as well. Also each character from the previous Disney painting is hidden in the next Disney painting. Paula says this shows his creativity.

There is a large print of a painting titled Daytona Nascar Thunder. It is made up almost entirely out of narrative symbols.

The next gallery visit is the Archive in Monterey located inside the historic Harry A. Green mansion on Lighthouse avenue. Though it does not feel mansion sized at all. The people working there appear very busy but the man at the front desk pauses once to say hi and once again as we leave to say goodbye. I at least do not feel completely ignored. Kinkade has two sculptures present in the gallery, Jesus face and praying hands cast bronze statues. The subject is not surprising as Kinkade looks at art as a high calling. Not a profession, but instead a holy mission (Kinkade pg11). In this way the Kinkade work is a conceptual object a window in to Gods words(Kinkade pg11). It is deeper form of communication. Also, there are some nice rugs. It is a big house not spacious. The 2nd story staircase has original drawings of hats and some people. This could be a throw back to Kinkade’s time as a hobo artists traveling across America, When he and a friend created the book Artists Guide to Sketching(Kinkade pg14). The rooms of the house are little office spaces for whatever business goes down. The archive is the only location displaying only original paintings by Kinkade instead of the prints shown everywhere else. With close examination I do not notice any significant difference between these and the expensive mass produced copies sold in the Kinkade galleries. The paintings are each individually lighted by brass lamps mounted to the painting frames.

I listen to a phone call made by the man at the front desk. He says “Tom I am calling about a special sketch you had promised a buyer. It is to personalize one of the large prints of the cross. The buyer had been considering this purchase for a long time. It is for his mom. Please call back.”. Kinkade truly believes Gods hand is on his Light Post company(Kinkade pg18). There is little separation between his religion, his business, his art, and his personal life.

On the second story outside a meeting room is a painting that is not ugly at all. It lacks any mounted title it is an actual original painting by Kinkade. The painting is dated 1989. It is one tree lit close up with an old wooden fence along a trail in front of the tree. Little else is in the painting except a darkened nature background surrounding the tree.

Before we leave me and my assistant Nicole stop to enjoy an awesome hanging lamp that comes down from the pointed peak in the house it attaches to the roof with a beautiful colorful tiled ceiling. The lamp is very large and colorful. It really completes this Victorian style house that has been around since 1886.

The fourth and final Kinkade gallery visited is the Thomas Kinkade Steinbeck gallery located on Cannery Row only a few blocks from the archive. Here is the print selling front attached to the archive. The man inside, Ben, is extremely nice and helpful. He is well dressed thin and healthy looking possibly middle aged. He has a very firm commanding hand shake. He is definably thorough. He is a perfect employee for Kinkade who sees contemporary art as existing on the fringes of society. a subculture with little bearing on the average persons life. (Kinkade pg11). Ben seems very interested in the fact that I am an art student writing a paper and he esquires as to what I am writing about Kinkade. I am mostly honest with him and tell him I am writing about the galleries and the people in the galleries and the works in the galleries. I think he likes this, since he tries to help me with this writing however he can. Honestly, I will say I was not prepared for how willing he was to help with any information I would need. He even joked about the fact that if I were to buy one of the works he would include a five page paper on the work itself. Which would completely finish part II of my writing on Kinkade.

There is a fireplace in the middle of this little gallery. It is fake with fake glowing logs. There is a family picture of Thomas Kinkade and his family over the fireplace. The lighting is track lighting again but they are very well placed. Soft homey muzac runs through the speakers.
My assistant Nicole browses the extensive catalog sitting out. She comes across a notably gritty painting titled “the Wailing Wall” in Jeruselem 2006. Several jewish people are portrayed in the painting in a most respectful manner.

In the gallery is an image I had not seen before titled ”Pacific Nocturne” it is a beach scene. Very simple layout, scattered round rocks sit across the middle of the scene. The ocean surf is soft and foamy it half envelopes the rocks and ends at the bottom quarter of the scene. The work is done almost entirely in cool colors. With a few purplish undertones for warm highlights. Even the sun is uncharacteristically gloomy. The scene is uncanny in its familiarity and unrecognizable location, it is that word stuck on the tip of your tongue.

I ask Ben about the not ugly untitled painting at the archive. He calls the archive up to have them retrieve the information on it for me. The work is titled “First Snow” it is 24x36inches and it was an unpublished painting. My assistant Nicole finds it located in the gallery catalog dated 2005. With a much smaller size listed of 18x24inches. Ben asks the archive for the price. He is then informed that this original painting was first titled “October Snow” and it is priced at 195,000$. I already noted that the painting is signed with a date of 1986. The discrepancy in titles, sizes, and dates is most likely due to the murky way Kinkade markets his prints as collectibles. When they are actually mass produced products of a corporation. The website for the Monterey galleries lists the work as “October Snow” and unsold. It would be interesting which title the work will finally receive if it is ever purchased. Possibly the buyer should decide.

As I leave the gallery Ben offers a friendly goodbye and gives me a photocopy of the catalog page with “First Snow”on it. Hours latter upon my return to the Irish Hills room I sit down to study the “First Snow”. It bothers me, it looks nothing like any other Kinkade painting and I suddenly realize why. The “October Snow” painting was not a painting of Kinkade’s child hood memory in Placerville, it was a painting of my child hood memory in Placerville. In fact it was an exact replica of a photo of a 3 year old me swinging on a little rope swing attached to the tree. He had simply edited me out of the image and then changed the highlighting. But he could not have had access to that photograph since the photo had been destroyed when my mom lost everything she owned in a storage unit auction during a manic episode. This also means I have no proof of its existence. Still it leaves only one conclusion, Kinkade has access to my memories.

I had to know more about this, so I left my assistant Nicole sleeping in the Irish Hills room and I took the car in the middle of the night to Placerville Northern California. I had no problem finding my way as my memory from childhood was impeccable. Along with the fact that Kinkade’s home life is not separated or kept secret from his company. Retrieving his home address was one of the first things I did when starting the paper.

Total fear overwhelmed me as I arrived at his house. I put on a pair of white latex rubber gloves from a box of them I had around for resin casting. I grabbed a box cutter out of my tool bag and then went into his house. His house was big but I could hear him snoring quit easily. I walked quietly into his room and looked at his sleeping face. I was horrified to see his face was mine but 30 years older and he was no longer sleeping. Instinct kicked in, and I instantly cut his throat with my box cutter. Blood did not come out. Instead a radiating heat filled the room nearly melting the rubber gloves to my hands. The heat grew increasingly intense and the air began to glow red and bright, identical to the iconic glowing cottage windows in all his paintings. I was engulfed by a white hot aether. Suddenly I was back in my Irish Hills hotel room the white latex gloves brownish singed, all over little black spots melted to palms and fingers. The box cutter nearly charred beyond recognition appeared a minute later by my side. I walked outside for air and saw the car was back in it’s parking spot.

I did not sleep. At 8:45 am. Ben from the Steinbeck gallery called my cell phone. He politely said that Kinkade will be appearing as scheduled at the National Archive next Sunday for the Easter celebration, and that I should already know by now that I am not welcome there.

Part II. Due to Copyright Violation I Can No longer Title This “Painter of Light”

This is an analysis of the Thomas Kinkade painting titled “Everett’s Cottage, Foxglove Cottage, Gingerbread Cottage, Lilac Cottage, Make a wish Cottage, Moonlight Cottage, Nanette’s Cottage, Pine Cove Cottage, Stillwater Cottage, Teacup Cottage, A New Day Dawning, A Peaceful Time, A Quiet Evening, Seaside Hideaway, Sunset Lamplight”. Specific portions of this work are viewable at the Kinkade National Archive in Monterey or around the LA county area in any of the Thomas Kinkade Signature Gold Galleries. Print reproductions are available for purchase at hundreds of dedicated galleries across America and slowly spreading out in to other countries(Mullins).

The painting is an image of a cottage with bright glowing windows indicating that a massive destructive fire has broken loose inside the cottage. There is a phallic symbol chimney erected at the peak of the cottage roof, it is ejaculating a small sperm like swirl of smoke which spreads and swirls gently onto a soft warm rotted flesh sky. A path comes out of the background and ends at the bottom of the picture. The path pulls the viewers eyes around the painting. Light from the windows cast down color like tears on to wet reflective surfaces splayed out across the paintings foreground. The cottage is surrounded by nature in bloom. Trees are bursting with leaves, every plant is flowering in full force. Nature spreads itself wide across the canvas, over a neon green color field of grass. A bird flies through the sky. The bird is not native to this area, because this is not a real earth environment. There is a Lamppost, its glowing radioactive ooz, which symbolizes the destructive forces of mankind on his own nostalgic ecosystem. A triangular pattern makes up the form of the cottage like the pyramid on the American dollar bill. The cottage shape is extraordinarily strong and sturdy.

There are no human figures in the painting but the cottage is a figural form. The form is hermaphroditic containing the erect penis chimney and the receptive vaginal door it has facing the viewer. Kinkade has credited the cottage element as inspired by his mom and his child hood home in Placerville California. An oedipal style is developed here, reminiscent of early french Mannerism. Though Kinkade credits his style to Norman Rockwell and American traditionalist painters. The oedipal style is fully present by the raging fire inside the cottage, which is synonymous with the bodies raging lust.

The letter N is hidden multiple places on the painting. It represents Kinkade’s wife Nanette emblazoned on Kinkade’s mother form, the cottage. Kinkade signs his painting with a fanciful signature and the bible notation John 3:16. To remind the viewer that yes they are looking at a Thomas Kinkade painting and that it does make them a better Christian. This reminder is needed as another strong formal element in the painting might contradict this. The sky is the strongest formal element in the work and it shows an ethereal radiating sunset blotted out by uncanny non-cloud like puffy sky forms whose purpose seem more akin to communicating some type of hidden alien message.

It is apparent that many people do not consider Kinkade a serious contemporary artist. He is often completely passed up by most contemporary art class curriculums, and ignored in the complementary class textbooks. Which is why it must be stated that this analysis of his work is not an attempt at absurdity.

Thomas Kinkade has sold millions of prints of his works. ArtReview Magazine placed Kinkade in their top 100 most powerful people in the art world of 2008(Knight). He is one of the best selling artists in America and for that reason he should be taken very seriously. Which is why when he states that his work is a message from god, then that is exactly how his work will be examined.

A working definition of God can be taken directly from the Mirriam Webster dictionary. “the supreme or ultimate reality: the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshiped as creator and ruler of the universe”. This should help clear up any misconceptions by previous atheist readings of Kinkade’s work.

The universe itself should be excepted as it is defined by the popular theory known as “string theory”and the theory that encompasses that theory known as “M theory”. This theory relies on a world that is made up of 11 dimensions instead of the basic 4 dimensions like those in the sculpture department have to deal with conceptually. In this way there is a method for viewing Kinkade’s work as a communication with God. The same way you could say that Kinkade is pioneering a program titled painting11d.

The particles that make up the pigment in the oil paint on Kinkade’s paintings represent the 1st dimension. A single point defines nothing but the relation of all the points or all the pigments in the oil paint define a viewable world. Humans are 3 dimensional creatures who view the world from this point. It should be noted that Kinkade has his own branded oil paints to acquire complete quality control of his communications.

The 5th dimension relates multiple points of time together. The same way Kinkade’s paintings place objects from multiple points in time into a single viewable scene. The 7th dimension is understandable as the infinite possibilities of this universe. This can only be viewed by looking at the 15 different cottages by Thomas kinkade as a single painting of multiple possibilities of the same exact place.

The 9th dimension is the space where each infinite universe relates to the other through a space in which you pass between each universe. This is the same as traveling from one Kinkade gallery to another to view each varying configuration of works that make up the gallery and the infinite variations of the galleries construction. To truly understand this try traveling from Kinkade’s National Archive on Lighthouse Ave in Monterey to Kinkade’s Steinbeck Gallery on Cannery Row only a few blocks away.

The 11th dimension embodies the material that makes up all universes. Here is where you would watch the creation of universes. Here is where you find Kinkade’s God. An entity in scale massively greater then all human understanding. An entity that would see human life as smaller then a single bit of information. An entity in scale not so much greater then the amalgamation of all of Kinkade’s entire life, entire family, artistic message, artwork, collectors, galleries, prints, and his company Lamplight.

Fine art has always been about communicating what words cannot, contemporary art is even more so. Kinkade communicates what words cannot to God, because words alone cannot communicate anything to God. It is impossible to understand what he and God are communicating to each other because it is impossible for a human to observe Kinkade’s work through the multiple dimensions it deals with.

Attempting to observe Kinkade’s communication with God has inherent dangers in itself. The observer effect is implemented two ways here. Whatever communications Kinkade is having with God is changed by the act of his art collectors observing their prints at their homes. This is the intended relational aesthetic implementation by Kinkade. It is harmless, but anyone who might attempt to observe his work multi dimensionally would change the communication itself. Doing so would ostensibly place the multi dimensional observer in communication with Kinkade’s God through observation. Nietzche warns against this with his theory that if you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back in to you.

To truly grasp the scale of information being produced by Kinkade’s paintings you have to look at the process of reproduction he uses. Kinkade has 9 levels of reproduction quality. The highest quality is a full size textured print that Kinkade himself highlights. One of his hairs is also included for proof of authenticity. For the next quality down, one of Kinkade’s master highlighters touches up the prints for him. But he still finishes it with a few quick highlights and a signature. The next level down the print is only touched up by the master highlighter. A good master highlighter can make 31 of these customized prints a day(Wilson). If Kinkade produces only 3,000 prints of each of the three qualities listed that would still produce 135,000 slight variations of the initial 15 variations of the cottage painting being discussed in this paper. Kinkade claims his work is in 11 million homes across America(Mullins). That alone makes him the most collected artist in America.

While it is impossible to know exactly what Kinkade is saying to God, he has passed on some of what he has learned to others. Kinkade has explained to others that God has blessed all galleries that open up to sell Kinkade’s paintings. The powerful deity can then guarantee the gallery owners will make a ton of money(Wilson). Unfortunately Kinkade’s God is not completely infallible. Lawsuits have been brought against Kinkade by Kinkade Gallery owners who say they where manipulated by Kinkade’s word of God. Kinkade was forced to pay out 860,000$ in damages and may be forced to pay out an additional 3.5 million to more former Kinkade Gallery owners(Wilson).

Why does a simple nostalgic cottage have such an incredible power. Nostalgia is the yearning to go home to a better place then the present. This seems like more multi dimensional manipulation by Kinkade. Paula, an employee at the Thomas Kinkade Showcase Gallery in Morro Bay California, and avid collector of Kinkade prints, was questioned on the effects of nostalgia used in Kinkade’s work. Her reply was simple and straight forward.”I like his paintings,” and “he is very creative”. Peggy, an owner of a large original Kinkade painting was also asked the same question. Her response was initially even less informative.”We were traveling in Northern California. We saw it and we had to have it”.

Responses like these highlight the cultural impact of the cottage painting by Kinkade. There is no cultural impact. The works do not engage contemporary culture in any intelligent way. They sit subdued as a background or memory in a persons home. They promote a completely unproductive and useless role for art in society. They reaffirm the National Endowment of the Arts decision to abolish their annual grants to individual artists by showing how well an artist can flourish in society while giving little back to it with his art. His paintings are Trojan horses with an unknowable purpose.

Andrew Wilson, AMERICA'S MOST WANTED, Modern Painters 94-7 Jl/Ag 2006
Charlotte Mullins, The Mystery of Market Forces, Art Review (London, England) 53 4 Je 2001
Christopher Knight,
Thomas Kinkade, Thomas Kinkade Paintings of Radiant Light

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