Christian artist Thomas Kinkade, the self-appointed “painter of light” whose bilious canvases and spin-off merchandise sell in volume and made him a multimillionaire, died suddenly Friday of what his family said were natural causes. He was 54. Kinkade’s fussy, twee paintings that seem to depict Middle-earth Shires at dusk are beloved by middle-class Middle America but reviled by the art establishment. Without exaggerating, Kincade labeled himself America’s most collected living artist; his art and reproductions of it – which can cost from hundreds of dollars to over $10,000 – is said to hang in 10 million homes and cheap hotels in the United States and bring in close to $100 million a year in sales. “With whatever talent and resources I have, I’m trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel,” he once said. Kinkade grew up in a trailer in Northern California’s Placerville, which he often represented in his paintings as an idyllic community of friendly citizens (Hobbits?). After hitting on a formula for inspirational landscapes and village scenes, he and his wife put their savings into publishing prints of his work in 1984 – and they sold 1,000 copies for $35 each. Kinkade’s Media Arts Group took in $32 million per quarter from 4,500 dealers across the country 10 years ago, according to the Mercury News. The company has since gone private.
But wait – there’s more: According to the Joe My God blog, Kinkade was known not only as an extreme conservative Christian activist, but also as a drunk-driving alky, fond of grabbing female breasts, heckling other artists at their shows, and literally pissing on their work. Once, at Disneyland, he urinated on the Winnie the Pooh statue, shouting, “This one’s for you, Walt!” If there are personalized hereafters, as some claim, we sincerely wish for Kinkade to spend eternity in one of his paintings.