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

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

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
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?


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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.
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
3

Sep 14, 2016

I found this story of from rags to riches and back again incredibly sad. The only encounter I had with the painter is when I saw him on QVC. He seemed to be very sincere and charismatic. At the time you didn't see anything that didn't have the painter of light on it, calendars, greeting cards,cross-stitch sewing kits, FTD floral figurines of cottages, everything was Thomas Kinkade. Over kill for me, but I did like some of his work. Then one day the news reported that he had died. I thought what I found this story of from rags to riches and back again incredibly sad. The only encounter I had with the painter is when I saw him on QVC. He seemed to be very sincere and charismatic. At the time you didn't see anything that didn't have the painter of light on it, calendars, greeting cards,cross-stitch sewing kits, FTD floral figurines of cottages, everything was Thomas Kinkade. Over kill for me, but I did like some of his work. Then one day the news reported that he had died. I thought what a tragedy. I was unaware of any of the sordid details of this mans life until this book. I feel especially sad for his children, because they paid the ultimate price. All I can say is that Christians are not perfect just forgiven.
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2

Nov 18, 2015

The guy who wrote this book is an unreliable narrator at best, and his view of his friend, not to mention his friend's addiction, is often hopelessly naive. Still, I was able to gain some interesting information, although I'd really like to fact-check it against a biography from a less biased source.
3

Jun 18, 2015

I'm glad that I read this book about Thomas Kinkade, but with it being so depressing and tragic I was also glad when it ended. I've seen the effects of alcoholism first hand when I was growing up and it is truly terrible. I thought the book was quite thorough in telling about Kinkade, though I did find it a tad repetitive at times.
3

Dec 30, 2014

Almost hagiography, the author never quite admits that the art is dreadful, but quotes others to that effect. Nevertheless it was interesting to read about this marketing phenomenon, which has nothing to do with art and everything to do with the public's lack of knowledge and taste.
4

Jun 02, 2018

Enter this book compassionately. This is not an eye-rolling kitsch commentary, and if you are looking for something to hate-read about Thomas Kinkade, you will be disappointed. Instead, insider Eric Kusky reflects with honesty on the empire they created and how it got so out of control. Kinkade truly believed in ministry-by-art, and selling paintings based on a publishing model, not on the scarcity model the art world understood. In Kusky's telling, it was the corporation who let it spiral so Enter this book compassionately. This is not an eye-rolling kitsch commentary, and if you are looking for something to hate-read about Thomas Kinkade, you will be disappointed. Instead, insider Eric Kusky reflects with honesty on the empire they created and how it got so out of control. Kinkade truly believed in ministry-by-art, and selling paintings based on a publishing model, not on the scarcity model the art world understood. In Kusky's telling, it was the corporation who let it spiral so far so fast, while Kinkade fought personal demons no one wanted to confront.

The tragedy is a familiar one: a poor young man with a singular talent who surrounded himself with poor advice and didn't know how to reign in the madness.

Jim Meskimen's read is warm and compassionate as well, all the way to the story's inevitable end. ...more
4

Dec 27, 2017

Sad tale of what I think of as a talented and inspiring artist, his family and friends and the rise and fall of a legend. Very well written and providing a larger picture than the vitriol of the web. It shows that just having the right heart without wisdom still leads to issues regardless of who you are or how successful. I enjoyed the read very much, was engrossing and well paced if a little to humiliating for others. The story is much like some biblical stories in that it shows the good and Sad tale of what I think of as a talented and inspiring artist, his family and friends and the rise and fall of a legend. Very well written and providing a larger picture than the vitriol of the web. It shows that just having the right heart without wisdom still leads to issues regardless of who you are or how successful. I enjoyed the read very much, was engrossing and well paced if a little to humiliating for others. The story is much like some biblical stories in that it shows the good and ugliness of human life. Definitely worth the time to read. ...more
3

Feb 13, 2019

I enjoyed this book, as much as I could while reading a story about such a talented person's life ruined by alcohol.
3

May 08, 2015

Ever wonder what it would be like to have your name imprinted on calendars, music boxes, Christmas ornaments, miniature lighthouses, barns and cottages? Ever wonder what it would be like to have half-million-square-feet of warehouse space containing only your oil paintings of lighthouses, barns, cottages, garden gates and gazebos? Ever wonder what it would be like to own several houses in some of California’s richest neighborhoods? To vacation anywhere in the world? To own vintage Ever wonder what it would be like to have your name imprinted on calendars, music boxes, Christmas ornaments, miniature lighthouses, barns and cottages? Ever wonder what it would be like to have half-million-square-feet of warehouse space containing only your oil paintings of lighthouses, barns, cottages, garden gates and gazebos? Ever wonder what it would be like to own several houses in some of California’s richest neighborhoods? To vacation anywhere in the world? To own vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycles and classic Mercedes convertibles? To have your name on several hundred galleries across the nation dedicated only to your artistic genius? To be the head of a 500-employee organization generating over four billion dollars in retail sales?

That’s the picture co-authors G. Eric Kuskey and Bettina Gilois paint of Kuskey’s former boss, the late Thomas Kinkade. “The Billion Dollar Painter” chronicles the triumph Kinkade enjoyed as America’s favorite painter of light. In these 259 pages, you’ll also read about the tragedy that ended Kinkade’s, much-too-short, alcohol-fueled life on April 6, 2012.

Here you’ll learn of Kinkade’s humble beginnings, the years spent in that “dilapidated trailer park on the outskirts of” Placerville, California. Here you'll follow Kinkade’s rise to legendary star status in the art world, having it all only to lose it all at the end of his 54 years. Kuskey and Gilois pull no punches. We see Kinkade warts and all. The drinking. The gambling. The partying all night long. The urinating in public. The lawsuits. The bankruptcies. The divorce. The live-in girl friend. Not a pretty picture. Especially considering all the pretty pictures that were masterfully and uniquely created by this one gifted but tortured soul. Read this and you will never, ever look at a Thomas Kinkade painting the same way again.
...more
4

Nov 15, 2016

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Favorite Quotes
• [...]so Thomas Kinkade had a way of making bad things seem good, and good things seem better.

• It was at the Art Center that Thom also began to become aware of the contradiction between maintaining the integrity of the artist's vision and the need to ear a living, having a desire for commercial success.

• Thom used to talk about how much he loved the musty, pungent smell of oil and turpentine in a painter's studio.

• "The light is the last thing I paint," he said.

• He said he Favorite Quotes
• [...]so Thomas Kinkade had a way of making bad things seem good, and good things seem better.

• It was at the Art Center that Thom also began to become aware of the contradiction between maintaining the integrity of the artist's vision and the need to ear a living, having a desire for commercial success.

• Thom used to talk about how much he loved the musty, pungent smell of oil and turpentine in a painter's studio.

• "The light is the last thing I paint," he said.

• He said he passionately felt that art had to serve the people, not the artist; and that art wasn't about understanding, but about creating good feelings for the viewer.

• [...]Thomas Kinkade was to art what Henry Ford was to automobiles.

• Perhaps a certain suffering is necessary for any artist to be great[...]Are you an artist because you suffer, or do you suffer because you are an artist?

• "The bottom line is, Kinkade has used God for profit."

Thoughts
• I had no idea Kinkade and James Gurney were roommates in college!

• It was really interesting to read about Kinkade's technique and though process which was very inspiring to me.

• I wish the book went into more detail about Kinkade's life and choices rather than the business aspect.

•I found it mind-blowing how specific galleries were required to upkeep very strict appearances all the way down to the drawer handles. I also enjoyed reading about how the Kinkade Company created sensory experiences in the galleries.

• The book gives an in-depth insight into Kinkade's life that extended beyond just his work. I found it a worthwhile read though very tragic.

3.5 / 5 ...more
3

Sep 03, 2015

An incredible story yet the slant of the author left me wondering. Eric Kuskey was a long time employee of Thomas Kinkade and through Bettina Gulois narrates his rags to riches and ultimate unwinding. At first I thought this would be a tell all of a disgruntled former employee but it becomes more evident as the story progresses that Kuskey despite disapproving of Kincade's Jekyl and Hyde personal life did love the guy.

Kinkade through his common man artistry of light, a solid man of God and love An incredible story yet the slant of the author left me wondering. Eric Kuskey was a long time employee of Thomas Kinkade and through Bettina Gulois narrates his rags to riches and ultimate unwinding. At first I thought this would be a tell all of a disgruntled former employee but it becomes more evident as the story progresses that Kuskey despite disapproving of Kincade's Jekyl and Hyde personal life did love the guy.

Kinkade through his common man artistry of light, a solid man of God and love of family, resorts to heavy drinking and nonstop carousing in his down time cutting quite an enigmatic figure. The art formula and his witnessing to the glory of God is converted into a multi-billion dollar empire that also enriches those closely associated with him. It all comes crashing down when the little people who try to tag along get burned through over-saturation of the market and questionable business practices. Yet in the final outcome he and his close associates walk away with millions, though it did finally cost him his life. Only in America.

So Kinkade a man certainly of artistic talent and a fervent believer of Christian principles also takes his pleasure through crude antics with women and urinating from a balcony on people below. Yet in the end he is portrayed as a fun loving bear of a man who had his flaws and could not get control of his dark side. So the moral of the story is, do what thou wilt but be prepared to live or die with the consequences. ...more
2

Sep 18, 2016

Another book that I just happened to stumble across at my local library.

Having enjoyed Thomas Kinckade's paintings and not really sure how he died, I thought this would be an interesting read. It wasn't as interesting as I thought.

Written by G Eric Kuskey who was the person that did all the licensing for Kinkade's paintings (Eric is the one who is responsible for all the images on Hallmark cards, collector plates, etc) his dealings with Thom were mostly businesses.

The first part of the book Another book that I just happened to stumble across at my local library.

Having enjoyed Thomas Kinckade's paintings and not really sure how he died, I thought this would be an interesting read. It wasn't as interesting as I thought.

Written by G Eric Kuskey who was the person that did all the licensing for Kinkade's paintings (Eric is the one who is responsible for all the images on Hallmark cards, collector plates, etc) his dealings with Thom were mostly businesses.

The first part of the book tells about Thom's childhood in poverty, how he met another master painter and developed his signature glowing light in all his art. The book then moves on to how Thom is discovered on a sidewalk by one man and then given an advancement by another to start his business.

It took me a while to get through all the info on Media Arts Group getting started, the ups and downs of the business, the constant coming and goings of various executives. This move and that one.

Where I picked up interest was when the Signature Art Gallery's that were started was brought in. I remember back in the early 2000's going into one of those at my local mall. It was just as described in the book.

The other interesting part's of the book were about Thom's duel personality. His public persona of the Godly, family man and his more private, hell raising , bad boy image.

If your a fan of Kinkade's work, I would recommend checking this book out but if may bog you down in some places.

. ...more
5

Dec 04, 2014

I've always been fascinated how such insipid, saccharine kitsch could be such a selling phenomenon, but then one only has to look into the cult-like atmosphere behind the born-again Kinkade, his multi-billion dollar enterprise and the troves of gullible "collectors" to see how it all happened. As an intimate insider, Kuskey accomplishes this by delivering a powerful, hard-hitting, yet surprisingly touching story of a talented artist destined for unheard of riches, the family and associates I've always been fascinated how such insipid, saccharine kitsch could be such a selling phenomenon, but then one only has to look into the cult-like atmosphere behind the born-again Kinkade, his multi-billion dollar enterprise and the troves of gullible "collectors" to see how it all happened. As an intimate insider, Kuskey accomplishes this by delivering a powerful, hard-hitting, yet surprisingly touching story of a talented artist destined for unheard of riches, the family and associates destroyed along the way, and Kinkade's final, spectacular fall from grace. Alcoholism, fraud and greed are exposed from behind the squeaky-clean, Christian-themed images Kinkade paints and it makes for riveting, dumb-founding reading. ...more
2

Oct 27, 2014

I did not know the famous Christian "Painter of Light" actually sought out the darker parts of life, dive bars, alcoholism, and you get the feeling the author left out the drugs and sex. includes the stories of how he bilked thousands of collectors and especially his gallery owners out of their life savings. sad.
4

May 17, 2016

Riveting account of Thomas Kinkade's poverty-stricken childhood, his rise to financial success, and the men who surrounded him and ultimately caused the destruction of his fortune. Highly recommended!
3

Jan 20, 2016

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Illuminating. Hope to the masses his legacy is light. What a sad success story.
3

An incredible story yet the slant of the author left me wondering. Eric Kuskey was a long time employee of Thomas Kinkade and through Bettina Gulois narrates his rags to riches and ultimate unwinding ...Full Review

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