Billion Dollar Painter: The Triumph and Tragedy of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light Info

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The unbelievable true story of artist Thomas Kinkade,
self-described “Painter of Light,” and the dramatic rise
– and fall – of his billion-dollar gallery and
licensing business.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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3.76

183 Ratings

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Reviews for Billion Dollar Painter: The Triumph and Tragedy of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light:

4

October 29, 2014

Interesting read about a highly successful artist with a fatal flaw that can speak to all of us.
I picked up this book because I knew very little about Thomas Kinkade, the man, though, like everyone else, I had seen his work everywhere from calendars to coffee mugs. I had read he claimed to be a Christian and had heard the rumors that he had committed suicide, which shocked me. Written by G. Eric Kuskey, a man who claimed to be his friend and business associate for 16 years, I thought the book might bring some insight into this apparent paradox.

The author explains how he got on board the Kinkade team as the licensing agent when the business was starting to take off, and helped stamp “the painter of light” images on everything he and Kinkade could imagine. The income from his work brought in millions, in addition to the sale of the actual paintings and their prints and other ventures, which altogether eventually grossed in the billions.

Kuskey describes Kincade’s life well: growing up in poverty in a fatherless home and sometimes going hungry, his sincere faith, his diligent work ethic, his fun-loving spirit, and his alcoholism—the latter leading him into numerous embarrassing incidents and, in my opinion, was the real culprit that killed him. Kincade’s millions provided him with unlimited funds and the author tells us of his generosity, his multiple mansions, his collection of cars and “toys”, and his inability to confront his own problems, or those of his company. At one point the company had to file bankruptcy due to the failure of multiple Thomas Kinkade galleries around the country and the ensuing lawsuits.

As a friend and confidante of Kinkade, Kuskey listened to the celebrity’s thoughts about art and his struggles to be accepted by the art community, which disdained him—probably for his fame and fortune and the saturation of his products around the globe. Kinkade, however, preferred to be the common man’s artist like Norman Rockwell, as opposed to being an “artiste” for the elite few.

The sad part of the story is how his close friends, who claimed to be Christians (the author, a Catholic, and the others, evangelical) did not confront Kinkade earlier about his alcoholism and outlandish behavior and insist that he get help. Instead, according to the author, they went on gambling and drinking sprees with him, encouraging him by their silence and participation. I guess it’s hard to jinx the goose that lays the golden eggs, especially when you receive them.

It was painful to read as well how Kinkade did respond when his wife finally gave him an ultimatum, to either shape up or lose her and his daughters, and had him committed to a treatment center. Unfortunately, he remained in denial, held resentment against her, went back to drinking, and even got involved in immoral relationships--a tragic end for a truly gifted and beloved artist. Yet, his story makes me pause…am I compromising in some areas myself that I need to face? And, are there people in my life that I need to confront that are getting close to a precipice that could cost them their lives?
5

September 9, 2014

An accurate depiction of a force of nature.
An interesting business case study and a fascinating biography. The artist's essence is accurately captured, neither the perfect man his fans expected nor the conniving huckster his detractors tried to portray. Kinkade was many things, but never a hypocrite, as he was often accused of being. His faith and love for his family were genuine and unfailing. But he was, as he would say, a man of clay feet who would often proclaim that the best part of his faith was the grace. Fun, brilliant, caring, gifted, and visionary. The joy of being around him is neatly captured as were the early hints of trouble and the complex relationship between the 2 friends with different ideas about what the business should be. I loved the book, reliving moments of deep joy and friendship and then finally gaining some degree of understanding of what went so terribly wrong in the end.
4

September 14, 2014

Interesting and I recommend it
This is not the most sophisticated book. It's not the most comprehensive book. But it is a really fascinating biography told from the point of view of a man who was a close friend and colleague of painter Thomas Kincade through the best and worst of times. I actually had a hard time putting the book down due to its compelling narrative arc -- naive but brilliant painter and his two pals dream up a little company that turns into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, before the wheels fall off.
Some may criticize the book for being too soft on Kincade himself, letting him off the hook for some of the financial damage his company did to gallery dealers and soft-pedaling some of the painter's vices. But I think readers can read between the lines of the author's account and get a pretty full and interesting picture of the Painter of Light, who kept his hopeful gaze on the morning glow even as dusk closed in..
3

January 16, 2018

the author made some bogus claims like how he was painting till the end of his ...
As a TK Gallery for 12 years, the author made some bogus claims like how he was painting till the end of his death. He couldn't paint anymore going into his last few years due to his hand shaking. This also resulted in Thom's paintings being digitally done or what the Thomas Kinkade company calls "Mixed Media" since 2004. The author leaves all that out.
5

March 15, 2015

Thomas Kincaid billion dollar painter
Tragic story This book was sensitively and respectfully written hard to read at times so very sad to see a man so self destruct and the pain he caused his family. Had the chance years ago to meet him at a gallery in Walnut Creek Caliornia.Such a talented painter who gave and still does give so much inspiration and pleasure to so many I look at Two of his paintings every day in my house and never tire of them.This book left me with such compassion for his struggles and his human frailty which all of us share in one way or another. I am so grateful for what he left us and couldn't help but wonder what else he would have gone on to creat if he had still been here.
2

October 21, 2014

This Book Will Leave You in the Dark
If you want a book on the person, Thomas Kinkade, or how the company worked, keep looking. The book is long on what person in the organization did what, but the how's and why's of what happened are glaringly absent.

Mr. Kinkade is portrayed as a kid that never grew up. And much to the credit of the author, many of the antics are chronicled. Other than saying Mr. Kinkade was reclusive, only wanting to paint, until he wanted to go on a tear, there is little of the man here.

The book will not tell you about Mr. Kinkad's formative years, nor how the organization actually operated. A lot of decisions on how the company would operate were never touched upon, even the personnel in the organization, which the author spends far too much time on, were little more than two dimensional characters.

It appears that the authors were very selective as to what was said because of the possibility of lawsuits.
Ok, at least fill us in on what Mr. Kinkade thought of all the Gallery closings, and why he took no actions to help solve the pervasive systemic problems.

A more accurate title would have been - Dude, Where's My Paint Brush?
3

Nov 17, 2014

I have to admit it- I hate Thomas Kinkade paintings, plates, calendars, and all that schtick. I don't think the art is well-done and the sentimentality of it all makes me gag. But the title won me over because I had no idea there was any sort of "tragedy" involved in this guy's life. It piqued my interest. It's a riveting book and reads quite fast. There's a nice inset of colored photos within. I gave the book 3 stars since it seems to be a rather incomplete biography- perhaps a more apt title I have to admit it- I hate Thomas Kinkade paintings, plates, calendars, and all that schtick. I don't think the art is well-done and the sentimentality of it all makes me gag. But the title won me over because I had no idea there was any sort of "tragedy" involved in this guy's life. It piqued my interest. It's a riveting book and reads quite fast. There's a nice inset of colored photos within. I gave the book 3 stars since it seems to be a rather incomplete biography- perhaps a more apt title would be, "Billion Dollar Painter: My Experience Working with Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light." Indeed the book is very slanted towards the documentation of Kinkade's business dealings. His wife wasn't interviewed, childhood friends, brother, daughters- so it really didn't feel like a complete biography. I would have loved to hear from them as well and I think it would have made the reading much richer.

I went into this book looking down on Kinkade, but found myself feeling sympathetic towards him at the end. He lived for his art and was passionate about God, despite his egregious flaws. He became wrapped up in a branding and business that was way over his head and drove him headlong into alcoholism.

This was a quick read, and an interesting (albeit one-sided) look at the artist and the rise and fall of a business empire. ...more
5

December 9, 2017

Highly Recommended, Kind, and Very Readable
I never knew much about Thomas Kinkade, but, as an artist myself, I was always curious. This is a really nice description of what happened, by an author who was both a friend and someone who worked for Kinkade's business, so he seemed to know what he was talking about from several angles, and knew the people involved. It is a kind book. The author concentrates on intentions, and doesn't wallow in the negative. I feel that the book not only explains "what happened," what the ground-breaking business phenomena was about, but also the genuine artistic sensibilities, goals, and vulnerabilities of Kinkade himself. As an artist, I can see how this happened--What Kinkade wanted was to PAINT, and he trusted other pioneers to handle the business side of making an (extremely good!) living for him. As a person who lived through the 20th century, I can see that the whole thing was a sort of pioneering experiment in the BUSINESS side of the art business. Pioneers sometimes fall over a cliff, and that is the general message I take home from this account.
4

August 6, 2017

Capitalism, Faith and Human Weakness Collide in a fascinating tale.
Standing firmly at the intersections of faith, art, commerce and sin, this book doesn't champion any of them in particular, but it does provide a glimpse into how people collide financially and morally in the inevitable zero-sum game of modern business. The story of Thomas Kinkade is unique in a way that transcends stories of modern capitalism, modern religion, and the way Americans think of themselves culturally. The people who bought Kinkade's products seemed to be expressing a moral duty, or a kind of religious obligation, that was entirely rooted in the pursuit of commerce. Here, in the 1990's in America, evangelical identity becomes inextricably intertwined with modern business in a way that may illuminate how the subsequent political landscape evolved. Wall Street, in it's mindless drive for profit and growth, becomes the whale upon which Kinkade's Ahab is lashed and the futility of claiming moral superiority to justify the pursuit of profit is starkly revealed in a tragic and inevitable drama that could only end in flames. Can one maintain one's moral convictions when every apparatus in their life is consumed with the accumulation of means to satisfy every base appetite? Kinkade himself is both the author of and the victim of his choices. Thrust into a circumstance that both imprisons him as much as liberates him, Kinkade seems to succumb to the constant siren call of his appetites, while at the same time clothes himself in robes of righteous justification for all the rewards he reaps from his enterprise. It's clear that his business model required elevating Kinkade to a higher station, where the ability to maintain the image is in constant battle with the forces conspiring to knock him off the pedestal. One senses the amazing, almost miraculous rise of the Painter of Light's success and in the same moment realizing the resulting train wreck is inevitable. This is the fruit of the tree of monetizing religion. Wrapping faith in a corrupting veil of shameless commercialism and greed. When the seed is poisoned how can the tree that grows from it not be crooked? It's a reminder that for some, buying plastic tchotchkes is a worthy substitute for solitary reflection and the pursuit of real moral justice in the world. What a great tableau to model the excesses of our world against. How lost are we culturally, to believe that business has any function or currency in spiritual pursuits? A fascinating story and I can't wait for the movie.
5

June 24, 2017

A must to read.
This book really tells the whole story of Kinkade's fame and fall from start to finish. Eric Kuskey, who worked with Kinkade, put this book together along with others who knew and worked with him. It was carefully written and thought out in precise truth.

I guarantee you won't be bored reading this book, in fact, I'm starting it over again.
5

May 25, 2016

You can hate the art, but love this story: how does a Billion Dollar Painter get created? Sociologically fascinating.
I KNOW- It's Thomas Kinkade. But you'll have an entirely new perception of his world after reading this book. It doesn't make excuses or apologies, just insights. If you want to know how a guy who paints really questionable artworks becomes a billion dollar industry, this book rewards the time you put in to read it. I absolutely couldn't put it down. It's kind in its presentation of touchy subject matters like Thom's alcoholism and the people around the artist, but that's a compliment to the author for not taking cheap clickbait shots- you don't have to read between the lines at all, it's all there. It was written by Eric Kuskey, the man who built the licensing empire, so he was front row for the entire ride. Highly, highly recommended.
3

January 16, 2015

Interesting but a bit dry
Did I enjoy this book: I wasn’t riveted, but I didn’t stop reading either; Kusky bounces from less-than-thrilling business details to glossy memories of Kinkade and back again. I probably skimmed a bit more than I should have, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading. I might not have been quite so eager to finish the book if I’d already known Kinkade’s story, but my limited knowledge kept me reading. It’s interesting stuff, even if it is a little dry. I also wish Kusky had included some photos–for some reason biographies that include those few extra pages in the middle seem a bit more solid than those without.

Billion Dollar Painter is a decent read, and though I don’t own any of the $4 billion worth of art Kinkade and his company produced, after reading this book I’m tempted to seek out a print or two.

GOLDEN LINES
“Is art only art in the original? Is the Mona Lisa less art when depicted in a coffee table book? Did the words in the Bible become less meaningful when they were printed by Gutenberg’s printing press, rather than hand-painted by one monk for over a year?”

Would I recommend it: If you’re interested in the business details (and more than a few juicy personal tidbits) of Kinkade’s legacy, I say go for it.

As reviewed by Melissa at Every Free Chance Books.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
3

May 17, 2018

Everything I know about Thomas Kinkade comes from a chance pickup at the local library's discard shelf, Billion Dollar Painter by G. Eric Kuskey. Kuskey was a business associate and friend of Kinkade's and the book is not a hatchet job, but it is tough going. I was 20 or so pages into this book and was about ready to give it up because it is truly one of the worst-written books I have ever encountered. Clichés come as almost a relief compared to the excruciating description of people and places, Everything I know about Thomas Kinkade comes from a chance pickup at the local library's discard shelf, Billion Dollar Painter by G. Eric Kuskey. Kuskey was a business associate and friend of Kinkade's and the book is not a hatchet job, but it is tough going. I was 20 or so pages into this book and was about ready to give it up because it is truly one of the worst-written books I have ever encountered. Clichés come as almost a relief compared to the excruciating description of people and places, few of which rise to the level of a real estate brochure or an airplane magazine. I just couldn't figure it out. G. Eric Kuskey is a businessman, not a writer - which is fine. But he had a writer help him with this book - Bettina Gilois, "an award-winning writer who was nominated for the Humanitas Prize...she blogs about art and culture for the Huffington Post." I guess those are bona fides, so what gives with the prose here (at random):

"Thom painted prolific still lifes and landscapes of the hills above Pasadena." (p. 14)

"Walking down Wallace Road is like entering a fairy tale. There's something about the way the light dances through the flickering leaves that must have felt like a hidden garden in heaven for Thom." (p. 16)

"Thom was painting in themes, taking certain subject matter and reproducing it in variations." (p. 26)

"I was intimately involved in establishing both the ideas and the content of those books, acting as the central point of coordination between Thom, the writer, and the publishing company." (p. 59)

"The painting was truly stunning. A misty background connoted the mystery of a life still unfolding; the warm inviting light in the cottage, the germ of a young child's destiny just beginning, growing and developing inside, nestled within the harboring beauty of nature and the garden. Thom's images were always full of symbolism. I was most moved by his devotion to his four daughters, and his dedicating timeless cottage images in their name." (p. 85)

"Ken was a good person, but he was also a complex character; fiercely competitive, yet endearing to those who knew him." (p. 97)

Maybe the painter gets the prose he deserves. But it is obvious that this book is not a hatchet-job; it was a sincere attempt (I think) to render the life of an interesting, conflicted man by a business associate and (I think) genuine friend. In fact I suspected - and found this somewhat of a relief, though I still found the prose a real slog to get through - that the book was written for Thomas Kinkade's fans, of which there are still legion, I suspect.

So I persisted, and I'm glad I did. For one thing, the writing seemed to improve some, or else I got used to it. And the story is an interesting one...

***

No, I do not like Thomas Kinkade's paintings in the way I "like" Rembrandt or Francis Bacon or Goya. I would not hang Kinkade's cottages or gazebos on my wall, not even ironically....well, maybe a small one, in a hallway that needed a little "light." I get the kitsch - I have all the usual college boy prejudices and what I am told about art in The New Yorker. And yet, I find Kinkade, as an artist, to be the real deal. He might be a bad artist, but he was, as much as any of the Heroes of Art, driven, single-minded, obsessed with his work. Sure, the only thing that matters is the actual works, But Kinkade had a vision, and though it ran counter to what the gallery owners and curators in the establishment consider art, I find it difficult to entirely discount Kinkade's cottages against Jeff Koons monumental balloon-animal cutesiness. With a little more irony, a few more IQ points in snarky cleverness, or a little more nurturing in college, Kinkade very well may have gone on to be a post-whatever artist ensconced in the University of Wherever, leaning over the easels of eager MFA students and pontificating to the sophomores. That he didn't do this is infuriating to the establishment, especially because of all that so-much-more-than-you-can-possibly-imagine money Thomas Kinkade made.

Now let's talk about the money. Kinkade is compared with Andy Warhol, as Andy's stupid doppelganger who never really got it - how to be cool or whatever. But let's quote Andy:

"Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art." (BrainyQuote.com)

Well, Thomas Kinkade sold 4 billion dollars worth of art, more money, so he claimed, than all the other artists who have ever lived throughout human history. Worhol would've been delighted and it is a tragedy he died before he had a chance to see The Painter of Light hit his stride. Silkscreen Kinkade Cottages would've been added to Campbell's Soup Cans...and Thomas Kinkade would've been delighted - as Kuskey makes clear, he craved recognition, even from those who despised him.

Kinkade was, as far as the Art Establishment was concerned, clueless. And yet they said that a hundred-some years ago about Henri Rousseau - the "Lion and Sleeping Gypsy" guy, the painter of galumphingly detailed jungles and hilarious tigers peering outward. The guy who told Picasso:

"We are the two great painters of this era; you are in the Egyptian style, I in the modern style." (art-quotes.com)

Despite a certain banality in common with Kinkade, Rousseau is undoubtedly a greater artist than Kinkade. In a way Kinkade did not, to be cheesy about it, Rousseau followed his muse. Kinkade, under enormous business pressure, cranked out the product, and the product was cottages, bridges, lighthouses and gazebos (he painted a lot of other stuff as well, but even his St. Peter's Square or Talladega Racetrack kinda looks like a cottage). Kinkade lacked Rousseau's imagination, as well as Rousseau's willingness to live in poverty and be ridiculed. Kinkade was eager to please, perhaps the biggest impediment to an artist after a lack of talent.

As Kuskey takes pains to point out, Kinkade worked very, very hard, and I do think this counts for something, especially given his alcoholism. More than anything else, painting is what he did - and the world is full of half-assers. His paintings, love them or hate them, took 300 hours each - to achieve his effect, he added layer upon layer, baking them between layers and working on multiple paintings at one time. While his business (Media Arts) was being run by his partners and hired guns, Kinkade spent most of his time in the studio, cranking out the product. This shouldn't be dismissed - most of the great artists were pretty relentlessly productive (and trying to make sales) - those Dutch Masters were businessmen as well as artists.

Of course the art world and the intelligentsia hated Kinkade. Kuskey mounts several attacks on the contemporary art market, but he is too nice of a guy to get really nasty. At one point towards the end, Kuskey makes a defense of Kinkade along the old "my kid can draw better than that" sort:

"What would sixteenth-century art historian Giorgio Vasari and the scholars at the Accademia della Arti del Disegno, the first art academy in Florence, have said standing in front of works by three artists - Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, and Thomas Kinkade? They would have dismissed the first two as painted by lunatics, perhaps the work of disturbed children, accident of errant paint, blasphemous and heretical at worst. And while they might have dismissed Thom's technique as falling considerably short of the skills of their alumni Michelangelo Buonarroti or Benvenuto Cellini, he might still have been the only one not ridden out of town on a rail." (p. 246)

Well, yeah. But Van Gogh was basically "ridden out of town on a rail" and this is generally acknowledged as one of Western Civilization's most gargantuan cultural mistakes. Kuskey notes several times that Kinkade liked Van Gogh - I'd go further and say Kinkade's work was heavily influenced by the mad Dutchman - the thick impasto, the outlandish light sources.

Again, Jeff Koons and his stainless steel Balloon Dog or Damien Hirst and his shark in formaldehyde are...what? Yeah, I know: ironic. Post-postmodern. But our serious writers succumb to cornball stuff all the time. The fine artists are a bit more self-aware. As for being "The Painter of Light" - as ridiculous as such sloganeering is - I find in my own efforts to figure out why the American Poetry Establishment exists beyond its University life-support, that contemporary poems by "serious" American poets will, time and again, feature "light" as a kind of 100% all natural free range version of what used to be called God. How are these poetic emanations any less hokey, rote, and lazy than anything Thomas Kinkade was doing? The professor poets are just better at justifying their own schlock, they are cooler and don't mention Jesus unless being ironic or bashing a Red State.

***

The "Collectors' Market" aspect of Thomas Kinkade interests me very much, being a collector myself (antiques, coins, books, etc.). The prefab collector's market has been around since the 1980s or so, and it is seen by many as a real swindle - "limited editions" and "signed editions" and the fads (Beanie Babies, Franklin Mint, etc.). And yet if you look at a collectable as a consumable, what's the big deal? So Aunt Edna collected Hummel Figurines and spent thousands on them and now they are in your basement unsellable on eBay. Well, Uncle Bob spent his money on new cars, fishing trips and drinking beer - his 1988 Oldsmobile Skylark isn't worth much either (if it even exists), and the fishing trips are faded snapshots, and the beer, along with Bob's paunch and rock-hard liver, hath returned to the Great Mother Earth. At least Edna has something tangible to show for her money spent. Sure, accumulating stuff permanently can be seen as a pretty sad thing - believe me, I see my own collecting this way. Perhaps collecting stuff is a way to stop the passage of time and assuage the fear of death and oblivion. I don't know. But when it comes to the act of collecting, some people are better at it than others, but I refuse to see my collection of ancient Roman coins being enormously different than Aunties's Hummel figurines. Aunt Edna and I had the same urge; differences in taste and education and cultural exposure provided for each of us our "what." Perhaps the biggest difference comes when a collector feels that collecting is a way to make money - that never works out. True collectors are obsessed, and care about the money only because it justifies their accumulations.

The problem with the production and marketing of collectables is that it generally winds up being a rip-off financially even as these producers say (or imply) that collectables are a good investment. They are, for the most part, not. All producers of collectables face the same dilemma - the appeal of their product initially stems for exclusivity and rarity. As more and more people clamor for product as the mania takes fire, the temptation is to crank out more product. Tulip bulbs, Beanie Babies and baseball cards come to mind. Media Arts (Kinkade's company) succumbed to this in a huge way. There is only one original Thomas Kinkade "Hollyhock Schlock Cottage" painting. But prints lifted off this are infinite - Walter Benjamin muses on this in his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Every "serious" artist who pulls a hundred prints off a zinc plate is engaged in "mechanical reproduction" of art. The marketeers of Media Arts just did it on an industrial scale (and you can hear Andy Warhol cackling in Heaven).

The types of Thomas Kinkade prints are bewildering. Kuskey talks about them in a non-systematic way, but here is what seems to be a reliable eBay buyer's guide for Kinkade's art:

http://www.ebay.com/gds/Thomas-Kinkad...

Interestingly enough, what really got the money coming in and led to Kinkade's astonishing sales figures was arrival of a new reproduction technology: the canvas transfer system. This is where a print is mechanically transferred to a real, stretched artist's canvas, making a print look like a real painting. I remember the first time I saw one of these prints and I was astonished - it was far superior to those fake bumpy brushstroke prints that used to hang on living room walls when I was a kid, which I think were made by taking a standard flat paper print and gluing it down to a bumpy piece of cardboard. Kuskey mentions several times (the book, despite its brevity, is very repetitious) about how this brings real (or sorta real) art into the homes of people who never dreamed of owning real art. It should be noted that Kinkade's remarkable rise came at the same time the contemporary art market was also leaving orbit - art and money were in the news a lot and a lot of people on the outs thought a Kinkade in the bedroom was a way to get in on it.

To add a weird twist, DNA was part of the marketing plan. Kinkade would have a bit of DNA, spit, I presume, added to the higher-end versions of the prints to serve as a kind of genetic signature. This sounds less creepy and more normal as the years go by - I recently spit in a test tube and mailed it off to Ancestry.com. As a way to "sign" a painting, it is not a bad idea. A lot of curators and art historians probably wish Vermeer had hawked a loogie on the backs of his canvases...

***

Let's not forget God in all this. Part of Kinkade's appeal to his buyer was his faith, which he professed all the time, to the point of including Bible verses in his paintings. His company was ostensibly a Christian one. Kuskey has an interesting take on this because he is a Catholic, something that his co-workers found to be barely Christian at all (he would be introduced as a "Catholic Christian"). This changed, as Kuskey describes it (with a rare stab at irony):

"The biggest highlight of them all, surprisingly, came from Rome, the haven of that :fringe religion called Catholicism. Pole John Paul II personally invited Thom to come to the Vatican to present him with a painting...from then on, I never heard the end of it.

"That pope is a great man, Eric," Thom would say.

"I'm glad you think so, Thom."

"Yeah. He's a holy man," he said reverently.

I was never referred to as a Catholic Christian again." (pp. 153-154)

Mild Catholic bigotry was not Kinkade's biggest problem, of course. As with many televangelists, temptation came around and booze, gambling, women, and frantic acquisition came to undermine Kinkade's credibility as a simple man of God.

***

Kinkade's decline and fall is what initially interested me in this book, in a disgraceful, rubbernecker's way. By the time I got around to that part of the book, I felt rather ashamed of myself. Kuskey (and his hired help) conveyed the end with some gory detail, but mostly with a sadness and regret that struck me as genuine. I say "somewhat" because it is hard to believe that Kinkade's friends were not all to some extent interested in his vast amount of money. Socially, the guy sounds stultifying.

""A family is like a garden. Every child is a delicate flower that will bloom with the right nurturing," he said. Thom always talked in this way; the same way he wrote his books. It wasn't just on paper; Thom could hold forth on how to live one's life all day long." (p. 85)

Yikes. That "Thom always talked this way" is true only when he was sober. When drinking, he became the sodden jokester, slugging down Bud Lights and tequila shots in the limo, the guy who remarks on the great cans on the waitress and winds up dancing on the table and had a yen for pissing in elevators, on a Winnie the Pooh statue at Disney World, etc. Kuskey has too much tact to ever come right out and say that he loathed any of his time with Kinkade, but again, maybe it is not tact - hanging out with the boss because he pays you is not really anything to be proud of. But I'm not sure you have to be ashamed of it either - like most things that make you money, you just have to endure it.

The big problem was that Kinkade was an alcoholic. He only acknowledged this when his health had collapsed, but by then it was too late. The story is sad, and not particularly interesting because these things are pretty predictable. Kuskey was along for some of the binges, but he writes about them with some distaste, but again and again he talks about what a wild 'n' crazy free spirit Kinkade was, when from what I can tell he was a loudmouth waitress-grabbing vulgarian with wads of hundreds (which tends to keep the bartenders and the bouncers from calling the cops). Kuskey claims Kinkade was screamingly funny and endlessly entertaining right up to the moment when he collapses on the dance floor, but there is scant evidence provided. Nights out with Kinkade sound worse than the Christian banalities he uttered sober at his easel.

Kinkade's wife, who was devoted and married him when he was a nobody, seems pretty decent. Kinkade dumped her at the end for another woman. Of course. The will was contested, as you can imagine. A holograph will was produced by the new woman, a sad, drunken scrawl.

***

So was Kinkade talented? I truly think he was. Time and again his company tried to break in other, similar artists, and time and again these efforts flunked. As anybody who has stayed in a hotel or a hospital can tell you, anybody can paint a winding path in an autumn woods with a sunset glimpsed through the leaves or a crooked spiral of smoke rising from a half-timbered crooked little cottage next to a babbling crooked little brook. But only Kinkade sold 4 billion dollars worth of this stuff. Even his critics pay backhanded compliments; Kuskey quotes this:

"Essayist Joan Didion called his imagery creepy in that the cottages had such "insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel.: She added that "every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the house might be on fire."" (p. 161)

Nobody would say this about Norman Rockwell (who, by the way, seems to be okay with the intellectuals nowadays, after years of critical scourging) or Andrew Wyeth, but Francis Bacon's screaming popes are pretty creepy. But more along the lines of Thomas Kinkade, do you know who else is creepy? Margaret Keane and her "Big Eyes" little girls, paintings that sold enormously and now, some 40 or 50 years later, strike us as being as bizarre as some of the most outré paintings found in Pompeii brothels. And yet there's a good chance your grandma or Aunt Karen had one of these hanging in the bedroom.

Which is to say that maybe we are looking at Thomas Kinkade the wrong way. Maybe it was his desperate and repeated attempts to get inside one of those cottages and the relentless layers of color and the frantic obsession with light that will make, someday in the distant future, Thomas Kinkade the painter of American turn-of-the-century terror and hopelessness, Nietzsche's "God Is Dead" manifest in layer upon layer of paint, by a hopeless, helpless Saved-Again alcoholic who fervently proclaimed his Christian faith from the ruins of his business and his family and his health. What if Thomas Kinkade is the Jay Gatsby of American art, endlessly striving for something that doesn't exist and never did?


...more
1

September 7, 2015

Dry, too long, deeply-flawed
The book could have been cut in half and been better. Very dry, far too much trivia, and somehow misses the mark. Appears to have been heavily-censored, too. Eg., the intriguing possibility that Kinkaid was murdered by his gold-digger girlfriend on conjunction with a forged will is intriguing but not discussed. An astonishing fault is the lack of photos of Kinkaid's work; ironic in light of the subject matter. Interesting but inadequate insight into how the snotty (and crooked) "fine art" and "modern art" critics and galleries spurned Kinkaid. Although evidence is that Kinkaid was murdered, Kinkaid was brought down by his own naivete and insanely extreme drinking. Kinkaid was a wonderful artist but that didn't mean that he could deal with his personal faults, much less control the legions of hangers on and parasites who controlled his empire, much less make wise decisions. There are lessons in Kinkaid's rise and fall for business and life, but this stultifying overly-long book does not tell them. Unless you're afflicted with insomnia, save the money and perhaps spend it on a Kinkaid print.
1

April 10, 2015

he is the perfect rube: he is willing to accept anything he ...
This does not even desire one star, but the review protocols do not permit negative stars. I cannot imagine that this writing even had an editor.
A fourth grader could have done a more professional job.
The writing manages to be highly repetitive, sycophantic, infantile in its "insights," gossipy and wildly inconsistent all at the same time. It is a unique talent to exercise all of those faults at the same time, but not one to be encouraged.
The only consistent note that rings true is that the author is truly a naive boob with no sense of judgment (and yes, even his wife agrees). Who, after all, would want to be a become a victim of the gallery scam run by "hard sell" door to door vacuum hustlers whose principal talent is to worm their way into your house and not leave until they have extracted a sale or you call the police? Well, that is the author, even after he knew enough to understand the scam. In carney speak, he is the perfect rube: he is willing to accept anything he is told at face value and then some.
3

Sep 03, 2016

Whether you loved artist Thomas Kinkade or purchased one his many cottage prints or groan at the late artist's controversial life, you have to admit that he was a fascinating character. Author G Kuskey, a close friend and former employee of Kinkade, shares his perspective on the man. Coming from humble beginnings, Kinkade struck it rich by commercializing his "Painter of Light" idea and mass marketing his brand into become a 100 million dollar industry.

However even with his success, his Whether you loved artist Thomas Kinkade or purchased one his many cottage prints or groan at the late artist's controversial life, you have to admit that he was a fascinating character. Author G Kuskey, a close friend and former employee of Kinkade, shares his perspective on the man. Coming from humble beginnings, Kinkade struck it rich by commercializing his "Painter of Light" idea and mass marketing his brand into become a 100 million dollar industry.

However even with his success, his douchebag reputation and penchant to hit the bottle caused his downfall. We're talking about a guy who was such a hypocrite that he would sell his kitschy art to Midwestern Christians but had no problem groping women, drinking excessively, and peeing on a statue of Winnie the Pooh at the Disney offices. I mean who marks poor Winnie as their territory? What ever did the Pooh do to him?

Sadly, this overbloated sack of artist shame ruined his internal organs due to his alcoholism and died bankrupt and in the middle of several lawsuits. Author Kuskey tries to paint a sympathetic portrait but face it. Kinkade was an asshole in life and an asshole in death.

At least his art can be found in the bargain basement of every Dollar Tree store next to the velvet paintings of Elvis Presley. ...more
3

Jun 13, 2014

I was absolutely riveted by this book. It is a highly laudatory even affectionate bio by a former business associate of this painter, a man who briefly captured the middle class love for art with 'values' and resale value too. Unfortunately the details of Kinkade's show-me-the-money approach to his business dealings in the art/collectibles market reveals a huge disconnect between his self-professed Christian faith and his unsavory personal habits and love of boy's club style hi-jinks (drunken I was absolutely riveted by this book. It is a highly laudatory even affectionate bio by a former business associate of this painter, a man who briefly captured the middle class love for art with 'values' and resale value too. Unfortunately the details of Kinkade's show-me-the-money approach to his business dealings in the art/collectibles market reveals a huge disconnect between his self-professed Christian faith and his unsavory personal habits and love of boy's club style hi-jinks (drunken junkets, gambling, expensive cigars, 'hands-on' appreciation of random beautiful women, a broken family life). This is a bio that really reads like Elmer Gantry meets The Wolf of Wall Street. Bizarre. One does have some sympathy for the faithful Christians who were taken in by this man and his not-at-all-ethical business partners who eagerly parlayed the the profession of religious faith as sales and marketing tools. So much for the Christian virtues of this "Painter of Light". Those who enjoy wallowing in schadenfreude will not be disappointed. ...more
3

Apr 03, 2017

Written by an insider in the Kinkade organization, this is hagiography rather than biography, with many passages describing Kinkade's religious beliefs and his sense that his work was for (and from) God. Ultimately, though, it's the same old story: artist (in the general sense) rises to fame, becomes overwhelmed by success, loses his family, and then dies as a result of his own indulgences (in this case, alcoholism). The biggest surprise is how sincere Kinkade seemed to be about his art: there's Written by an insider in the Kinkade organization, this is hagiography rather than biography, with many passages describing Kinkade's religious beliefs and his sense that his work was for (and from) God. Ultimately, though, it's the same old story: artist (in the general sense) rises to fame, becomes overwhelmed by success, loses his family, and then dies as a result of his own indulgences (in this case, alcoholism). The biggest surprise is how sincere Kinkade seemed to be about his art: there's absolutely no hint that at any point, he was faking his belief that his paintings made the world better. The book is also immensely readable (probably due to co-author Bettina Gilois). ...more
4

Nov 12, 2015

A hard cautionary tale demonstrating the toxic mixture of egregious Christian theology, wizard-level art talent, rags-to-riches, extreme isolation from one's own business affairs (allowing others to run things by proxy), and the denial of personal demons (namely inherited alcoholism). Mr Kinkade's story might be the best demonstration of the Christian 'saint-sinner' dynamic struggle of Romans 7 one could witness, and it is heart-wrenching.
5

Jul 21, 2014

A fascinating look on the artist and the man. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kincade prior to his stardom. He was sweet, humble and interested in who liked his work and why. Things changed post fame as they often do. Insightful look into the life and tragedy of Thomas Kinkade.
4

June 14, 2017

Tragedy would best describe this biography
Tragedy would best describe this biography. A decent man destroyed by alcohol. The idea of making his work affordable is interesting. Not recognized as a great artist but his work was enjoyed by many but the idea of making it a huge money-making enterprise could be considered a mistake.
5

October 21, 2015

Riveting story of the rise and fall of a greedy artist
What a fascinating read! I wondered what had happened to Tom's company after I left as a very underpaid employee of 2-3 years. As employees, we had heard of some of Tom's antics that did not measure up to his "Christian values" persona and just chaulked them up to his making so darn much money so fast, particularly in royalties. Wow, the money this guy made just in royalties alone was staggering! I was riveted by this book!
4

February 3, 2016

Good read for business students.
I found this book interesting on many levels. I am an artist. I didn't particularly like Kincaid's work but understand why some folks did. This book however was more about business practices than art. It illustrates what can happen when a group of leaders focus on sales and short term at the expense of ethics. I saw a lot of this in my own business experience and it moved me from a conservative who voted for Goldwater to a liberal that understands the need for regulations.
3

Jan 16, 2015

Did I enjoy this book: I wasn’t riveted, but I didn’t stop reading either; Kusky bounces from less-than-thrilling business details to glossy memories of Kinkade and back again. I probably skimmed a bit more than I should have, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading. I might not have been quite so eager to finish the book if I’d already known Kinkade’s story, but my limited knowledge kept me reading. It’s interesting stuff, even if it is a little dry. I also wish Kusky had included some Did I enjoy this book: I wasn’t riveted, but I didn’t stop reading either; Kusky bounces from less-than-thrilling business details to glossy memories of Kinkade and back again. I probably skimmed a bit more than I should have, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop reading. I might not have been quite so eager to finish the book if I’d already known Kinkade’s story, but my limited knowledge kept me reading. It’s interesting stuff, even if it is a little dry. I also wish Kusky had included some photos–for some reason biographies that include those few extra pages in the middle seem a bit more solid than those without.

Billion Dollar Painter is a decent read, and though I don’t own any of the $4 billion worth of art Kinkade and his company produced, after reading this book I’m tempted to seek out a print or two.

GOLDEN LINES
“Is art only art in the original? Is the Mona Lisa less art when depicted in a coffee table book? Did the words in the Bible become less meaningful when they were printed by Gutenberg’s printing press, rather than hand-painted by one monk for over a year?”

Would I recommend it: If you’re interested in the business details (and more than a few juicy personal tidbits) of Kinkade’s legacy, I say go for it.

As reviewed by Melissa at Every Free Chance Books.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

http://everyfreechance.com/2015/01/me... ...more
4

Aug 02, 2018

I remember wandering into one of those Signature Galleries at a mall back in the early 1990s and having a woman take us to a little darkened room where we saw a Kinkade painting. She explained how it was a print that was highlighted with paint. Then she turned down the lights so we could see the painting "glow." It was awkward because I was obviously supposed to feel awed, but I was unimpressed.

Little did I know the story behind these galleries.

And the thing I never liked about Kinkade's I remember wandering into one of those Signature Galleries at a mall back in the early 1990s and having a woman take us to a little darkened room where we saw a Kinkade painting. She explained how it was a print that was highlighted with paint. Then she turned down the lights so we could see the painting "glow." It was awkward because I was obviously supposed to feel awed, but I was unimpressed.

Little did I know the story behind these galleries.

And the thing I never liked about Kinkade's painting was the sweetness and the gooiness of it. I couldn't relate being a child who grew up in a trailer park. Ironically, Kinkade also grew up in a trailer! It is interesting how his childhood experiences fueled his subject matter.

Kuskey gives a sympathetic view of Kincade but I had a hard time buying it.

(view spoiler)[
This book reads like an insider story, but towards the end you realize many of the stories came from depositions stemming from the many lawsuits brought against Kinkade by Signature Gallery owners. And the stories woven together reveal a good ol' boys club of men using God's name to take people's money and let the figurehead wallow in his own alcoholism and embarrassing (sometimes disgusting) behavior.
(hide spoiler)]

If you like memoirs, non-fiction, marketing, popular culture, or art ( I like all these categories), this is a good story to listen to on audio. ...more

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