Self-proclaimed "painter of light" Thomas Kinkade, one of the most popular artists in the United States, died Friday at his Los Gatos, California home. He was 54.
The former Carmel, California resident's death appeared to be from natural causes, his family said in a statement. Authorities will not have the official cause of death for at least several days. Police referred comment to the coroner, who was unavailable late Friday.
He and another fledgling artist, James Gurney, created background art for the 1983 Ralph Bakshi animated feature film Fire And Ice. The pair landed the job through the popularity of their best-selling instructional book The Artist's Guide to Sketching, created after Kinkade and his college friend spent a summer on a sketching tour.
After completing his work on the Bakshi film, Kinkade began his career as a painter, selling his originals in galleries throughout California.
Shortly before he died, Kinkade was America's most collected living artist. It is estimated that his paintings are hanging in one of every 20 homes in the U.S.
"There's been million-seller books and million-seller CDs. But there hasn't been, until now, million-seller art," Kinkade told 60 Minutes in 2007. "We have found a way to bring to millions of people an art that they can understand."
"Thom provided a wonderful life for his family," his wife Nanette said in a statement. "We are shocked and saddened by his death."
His masterful use of soft edges and luminous colors gave his highly detailed oil paintings a glow all their own. This extraordinary "Kinkade Glow" created an overwhelming demand for Thomas Kinkade paintings and lithographs worldwide.
He was born in Sacramento, California on January 19, 1958. While growing up in the small town of Placerville, California, he embraced a series of simple life-affirming ideals that later would shape his future and his art. As a devout Christian, he used his artistic gift as a way to communicate and spread the life-affirming values he embraced during his formative years.
As he matured into adulthood, Kinkade began to explore the world around him with enthusiasm and fervor. Soon, he started exploring light and imaginative worlds with abandon. It was during this period that he acquired his moniker as the The Painter of Light.
His prints of cottages and rural garden gates were famed for their painted highlights, unusual in the art world. According to his official biography, he printed 1,000 paintings of "cabin and nature scenes, beautiful gardens, classic cottages, sports, inspirational content, lighthouses and powerful seascapes, impressionists and classic Americana" in the 25 years since he graduated from UC Berkeley.
"I'm a warrior for light," Kinkade told the San Jose Mercury News in 2002, referring not only to his technical skills, but to the medieval use of light to symbolize the divine. "With whatever talent and resources I have, I'm trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel."
In 1982, he married his childhood sweetheart, Nanette Willey. Two years later, they began to publish his paintings together.
Devoted to his wife and children, he strove to lead a balanced life committed to family values. Kinkade creatively filled his paintings with "love notes" by hiding the letter "N" in all his paintings as tribute to his wife Nanette. His four daughters also found their own messages of love from their father, as their names and images often appeared in many of his paintings.
Several Kinkade galleries and a museum were once located on the Monterey Peninsula. However, four locations closed their doors in 2002 following an economic recession.
"Thom was a good friend and our families were very close," said Pacific Grove resident Rick Barnett, former owner of a Kinkade gallery in Monterey. "He was a man who spent a great deal of his life looking at ways to help other people. He gave millions to people and causes. He hoped to make things better for those in need."
"He was a great artist, and recognized as such, all the way up to having articles written about him in the Smithsonian," Barnett added. "His artwork perhaps had the greatest amount of influence of any artist of modern times in American culture."
Kinkade gave people warm, positive images, which was what they wanted, said longtime friend Ken Raasch, who co-founded Kinkade's company with him. "I'd see a tree as being green, and he would see it as 47 different shades of green. He just saw the world in a much more detailed way than anyone I've ever seen," he added.
At the time of his death, Kinkade was involved in several collaborations that allowed him to spread his message of inspiration through art.
Kinkade expected his paintings to have a life of their own. "Art is forever," he told 60 Minutes in 2007. "It goes front and center on your wall, where every day the rest of your life you see that image. And it is shaping your children, it's shaping your life."
Despite his strong faith, Kinkade had his troubled side.
During a late-1990s visit to the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure, joking "This one's for you, Walt," according to Terry Sheppard, a former vice-president for Kinkade's firm. The allegation was published in a 2006 profile of the artist in the Los Angeles Times.
In June 2010, Kinkade was arrested outside Carmel for driving under the influence after leaving Mission Ranch. Booked into Monterey County Jail, he was sentenced to five years probation and 10 days in jail that December.
Besides his wife, Thomas Kinkade is survived by his daughters Merrit, Chandler, Winsor, and Everett. All were named after famous artists, and all have the middle name Christian. He is also survived by a brother and sister.
His family was traveling to Australia on Friday and was unavailable for further comment.
Friends and family Friday started planning a private service. They were deciding on whether to hold a public celebration of life on a later date.
Thomas Kinkade holds an oil painting of a home that a Los Gatos, California homeowner commissioned. (George Sakkestad/Los Gatos Weekly Times)
Re: Thomas Kinkade, "painter of light," dead at 54
[In reply to]
According to the Los Gatos Patch, he had been separated from his wife for two years. A woman identifying herself as Amy Pinto said that she was his live-in girlfriend of the past 18 months.
Kinkade once said: "I share something in common with Norman Rockwell and, for that matter, with Walt Disney, in that I really like to make people happy."
At 22, he personally created over 600 background paintings for the animated feature film Fire and Ice.
Art by Thomas Kinkade, an online seller of prints based in Lakeland, Florida, speculates about his work for Fire and Ice: "This intensive period of work for the movie business may well have been the genesis of Kinkade's mastery of pictorial lighting effects."
In 2008, New York's Vulture blog had an interview with director Ralph Bakshi, who gave Kinkade his start as a background artist on the film: "That son of a b----! Kinkade was the coolest. If Kinkade wasn't a painter, he'd be one of those cult leaders."
(This post was edited by eminovitz on Apr 8, 2012, 4:33 PM)