Billion Dollar Painter – The Triumph and Tragedy of Thomas Kinkade by G. Eric Kuskey
Thomas Kinkade apparently is a household name in America. We might have seen his work in Hallmark greeting cards and other merchandise. He was probably one of the rare artists who made billions of dollars from his paintings while he was still alive. This is a memoir his friend and colleague who worked with him in last 16 years of his life, wrote.
It is a typical American story. A team of businessmen finds something to sell – in this case Thomas Kinkade’s paintings. They go ahead and build an empire selling his paintings. Bringing in innovations like mechanical replication of paintings on canvas and finding as many avenues to sell his art as possible. They create the branding. The myth and the aura around paintings and the painter. They sell his paintings in original and in copies in all possible sizes. Invite people to open dedicated galleries. License the art to other companies for use on things like calendars, greeting cards, and other merchandise.
They present the painter to the world as if he were a God. Leverage him being a Christian and appeal to the religious sentiments of the followers of the faith. Created an enviable empire from the painter and his paintings in a very short period of time. This obviously led to the power struggle in the founders and that eventually broke the business. It is a story that shows that downturn is as sharp as the upturn.
While the painter paints in the heaven he created for himself by selling paintings, the rest of team works full time on finding what more can be sold and where the next set of sales would come from. Most people in art circle considered his work kitsch. But I think established people are always uncomfortable with the new success stories. They might have resisted his mass marketing which was a forbidden concept in the art market. Team Thomas Kinkade sure did a lot of innovations to take his art to every wall in America. Sometimes they went overboard too like – mixing the painter’s blood in the paint. Furthermore, this paint was used to put artificial signatures on his replicated paintings. Reason being, if there were a lawsuit the DNA in the paint would testify for the original signature. They even trademarked phrases like ‘painter of light’
The author brings out the dual side of the painter by describing his drinking habits and his public behavior when he was drunk that led to many embarrassing situations. The behaviour which eventually worked against his empire. It is difficult to figure out what his real personality was? Was he really a spiritual guy who wanted to spread God’s light through his paintings? Or a guy who went berserk on his newfound wealth? Who enjoyed all kinds of luxuries and could play one man up the game with his own buddies by buying out their dream homes?
Though, a person was photographing and video graphing Thomas Kinkade at all times. Still,the cover of the book has the picture of the painter looking too shabby. He does not appear to be a personality who could paint as if he were a messenger of God as his colleague authoring the book likes to portray. Ironically, the same person who was photographing him wrote a memoir called ‘Painter by numbers’.
Author’s writing struggles especially between portraying the painter and presenting the business case – not realizing that both of them may not be synchronous.
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