The Painter of Light

There’s been a lot of news about the recession currently affecting businesses in Silicon Valley, but I bet you can’t guess what business is still booming there — the fantasy world of Thomas Kinkade.

I don’t know when I first discovered his incredibly kitsch paintings, but recently I was stunned to discover he has a gallery in London. I should have known better, because it’s only one of five galleries that feature his work here in the UK.

Today, just by chance, I discovered that the BBC’s Peter Day reported on Kinkade’s multimillion-dollar business, Media Arts Group Inc. which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, in a 30-minute programme on In Business (you will need Realaudio software to hear the programme). It’s well worth listening to if you’re at all interested in the interaction of art and business, but it’s also amusing to hear Peter Day struggling to contain his disbelief. How could such syrupy and sentimental representations of a completely fictional landscape be so popular?

The inevitable conclusion of course is that there’s no accounting for taste (just the money!), but it’s also clear that Kinkade’s work is as intentionally commercial as anything Hollywood might produce. In fact, the more time you spend looking at his paintings the more familiar they seem. Where have I seen this before? … Ah, I know. Kinkade is painting the flip side of The Lord of the Rings. His landscapes portray the best parts of Middle-earth; all the safe, twee places where Hobbits live. No wonder he’s making a fortune.