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by Marie-Clare Treseder

Thomas Kinkade "Cobblestone Evening"

Thomas Kinkade, “Cobblestone Evening”

Thomas Kinkade, the self-described Painter of Light™ (and arguably, of the people), is much beloved for his opulent paintings and prints depicting pastoral landscapes with gushing golds and dew-ridden bushes. Examining the most successful artist of the 21st Century, and his web presence, informs us of our own deeply held fantasies. It is our artists who define us, who depict our desires — and what better medium than that fantasy factory, the internet? Although more known for his mega-galleries (read: megalomania) than his internet presence, Kinkade is a colorful case of the accidental net artist. 

The fluorescence of his works decries a master of marketing- manufacturing pieces which attract even the most untrained of eyes. While the aesthete need protest such visual masturbation, pause is required over his staggering sales success. According to everyone, an estimated 1 in 20 American households owns a Kinkade artifact. Add to this his being the most collected artist in Asia, and you have an international man of merchantry.

Thomas Kinkade "Good Shepherd's Cottage"

Thomas Kinkade, “Good Shepard’s Cottage”

 

In the history of art, never has there been an artist more collected, nor derided by his own community. The fast, vast popularity of his art is much like the viral nature of memes. A simple enough subject– be it home video, selfie, or in this case, art– grows into so many layers of obfuscation when released into the internet community. The result is absurd. Kinkade’s collected works are so bright, so brimming with the bucolic, they remind one of why the French revolted. His website is no exception, garish contrasts and fecund fonts abound.

A native of my golden state, Kinkade is indicative of West Coast idealism, performing plastic surgery of sorts upon our once-resplendent hills and valleys. His repertoire reveals much of our insecurities in the post-industrial world; we seek the solitude of the sea, yearn for a cottage to call our own. Lacking Manet’s tact, Kinkade gives it to us in an iridescent palate reminiscent of my third grade Lisa Frank folder. Since the advent of the internet, such tasteless fantasy has become cemented, and Kinkade is no exception. 

The Little Mermaid by Thomas Kinkade

Thomas Kinkade, “The Little Mermaid” part of The Disney Dreams Collection IX. 

 

Although lost to us through a regretful combination of valium, alcohol, and Disney dreams, Kinkade’s abrupt end does not, however, signify the end to his ™. A digital immortal, his empire continues to expand post-mortem. Despite failing gallery schemes, his virtual gallery is growing. The “Kinkadian Master Style”, or official imitators, will continue to create new works through his website. Similarly, his impact remains ever present on visual blogs like tumblr. It is on these sites that iterations of his work are always being created. One current meme is to “Kinkade” an image, by adding his copyrighted cottages, or by filling any background with swaths of his paintings. It is unlikely Kinkade would be flattered by these depictions, but imagining the man, he would prefer being ironicized rather than irrelevant.

Thomas Kinkade "'A New Day at the Cinderella Castle''

Thomas Kinkade “A New Day at the Cinderella Castle”

Having gone the route of Google, Kinkade has so injected himself into our collective consciousness, his name is now a verb. Though Kinkade professed divine enlightenment, and a disinterest in his success, the internet has solidified his status from painter of light to painter of the people. 

 

Marie-Clare Treseder is an independent curator and artist living in San Francisco. Before joining the team as an official wordsmith, she was featured babe’ing out with her fangs out. She’s also on Twitter - @mctreseder

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