Painter of Light Thomas Kinkade died on Good Friday at age 54.
The artist was kind enough to give me an interview in late 2008, and we spoke about religious art, Christianity and the role of faith in his paintings and in his life:
“I always say I’m a man of deep faith, but I’m also a bit of a universalist. I want to live life in a nonjudgmental way. I try to speak in a very inclusive way about faith issues. I try to embrace people of all different faiths. You know, God will sort out at the end of the day what’s the prerequisites and the requirements for His elect group. But I think what matters in the human condition is that we exude the kind of unconditional love that Christ exuded.”
December 13, 2008
Complete interview below…
‘Painter of Light’ Kinkade says faith illuminates work
Thomas Kinkade describes himself as “The Painter of Light,” “The Official Artist of Christmas” and a devout Christian. He prays for people who come to his art shows. While famous for painting cottages and babbling brooks, the Californian also paints churches and chapels and pictures of Christ.
Recently, he even launched a semiautobiographical straight-to-video motion picture titled Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage. It focuses on a college-age Kinkade who paints a mural and helps his small California hometown to rediscover “the true spirit of Christmas.”
The wildly popular California-based painter visited with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette religion editor Frank Lockwood about light, darkness, the new Kinkade movie and the True Meaning of Christmas.
Q. Thomas Kinkade is one of the best-selling artists in the world today. How many million paintings have you sold so far?
A. “Well gosh, you figure that each year we sell 4 [million] or 5 million calendars. People take those paintings, oftentimes, and frame them up. We’ve sold millions and millions of canvas prints and our collector plates … It’s hard to estimate how much overlap there is but we’d say between 12 [million] and 15 million homes have some form of this art in the home, so it’s a vast audience.”
Q. You call yourself “The Painter of Light.” What does that mean?
A. “I think people have identified in layman’s terms the fact that I paint light as an effect. … There’s also a spiritual dimension that I’m sure most people would identify. Light is the opposite of darkness. It’s hope in the midst of despair, it’s love in the midst of frenzy and hatred and violence, so that’s what I think people find true about the paintings.
“They become a welcome relief in the midst of the chaos of our culture. The daily news is not always happy, and yet people feel like, when they step into the world of my paintings, they step into a world that is tranquil.”
Q. Why did you want to make a Christmas movie?
A. “I’m known as ‘The Official Artist of Christmas.’ That’s just sort of a term people toss around sometimes. You know: ‘It’s a Kinkade Christmas,’ people will say. Because a lot of times people associate my work with gift giving. We do a lot of Christmas products every year. I paint the imagery that I think has fueled the popular imagination of what Christmas should be. You know, the light spilling out from the windows onto the snow and the snowman in the yard and the sun setting just perfectly, glowing and soft-edged. …
“So when we were approached to do our first movie, we thought it would be a natural to do a Christmas story. If you think about it, there’s been a lot of Christmas movies made over the past decade, but most of the ones made have been in the category of slapstick, zany comedies. You know: sarcastic and humorous treatments about the holidays, about how busy it is, how crazy it is, how horrible it is to have your family visiting, etc., etc.
“We wanted to make a movie that hearkens back to the homespun Christmas stories of the past, movies like It’s a Wonderful Life which are timeless because they’re about the most fundamental part of the holiday season, which is the act of giving, the love of community, the self-sacrifice that happens in families.
“Our movie is about sacrificial giving. It’s a movie about new life amidst winter, hope emerging out of death, joy emerging out of sorrow and out of pain. Those are themes that don’t grow old.”
Q. What role does faith play in your life?
A. “Oh, it’s the center. I always say I’m a man of deep faith, but I’m also a bit of a universalist. I want to live life in a nonjudgmental way. I try to speak in a very inclusive way about faith issues. I try to embrace people of all different faiths. You know, God will sort out at the end of the day what’s the prerequisites and the requirements for His elect group. But I think what matters in the human condition is that we exude the kind of unconditional love that Christ exuded.
“So I try to love the unlovable and never judge someone for where they’re at.
I am a Christian, but I’m also a Christian with a sense of humor. There’s nothing profoundly pious about my life.
I have a beautiful old restored Harley-Davidson that I like to ride around, I have a taste for cheap cigars and a lot of the things I do in my life may not fit the mold of what some people think of as the Christian experience, but you know, I’m just who I am. I’m an individualist and I ask people not to judge me and I won’t judge them.”
Q. If you were going to pick the most powerful religious work of art in the world, what would it be?
A. “Oh, no question, it’s the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. … I was given the opportunity to have a private showing at the Sistine Chapel through the good graces of our friends in the Vatican and believe me, there’s nothing more powerful than standing in front of those paintings.
They’re as fresh today as they were when they were created. … The hand of God touching Adam and imbuing him with light and life is one of the most powerful images ever created.”