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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kinkade: Addiction and Overdose in the Pastel Light

He was popularly known as the "Painter of Light" for the glowing highlights and saturated pastel colors he rendered in his highly idealistic American scene paintings. He was claimed to be "America's most-collected living artist" before his death with an estimated 1 in every 20 American homes owning a copy of one of his paintings. (Maura Judkis, "Kinkade’s Polarizing Legacy: How Will the ‘Painter of Light’ Be Remembered?" The Washington Post, April 7 2012)

Critics have long derided his work as the epitome of mediocre art while consumers, instead, ensure that he is remembered as a man who who brought light and beauty into their homes. His name was Thomas Kinkade.

Thomas Kinkade died at the age of 54 as a result of accidental acute intoxication from alcohol and an anti-anxiety medication. The Santa Clara County Coroner's Office reported Kinkade's cause of death as "acute ethanol and Diazepam intoxication" and manner of death as "accident." Diazepam is the active ingredient in Valium. (Lori Preuitt, "Alcohol, Drugs Killed Thomas Kinkade: Autopsy," NBC Bay Area, May 8 2012)

Concerning his work, Kinkade had said he was placing emphasis on the value of simple pleasures and that his intent was to communicate inspirational, life-affirming messages through his work.

A self-described "devout Christian" (even giving all 4 of his children the middle name "Christian"), Kinkade said he gained his inspiration from his religious beliefs and that his work was intended to contain a larger moral dimension. He has also said that his goal as an artist was to touch people of all faiths, to bring peace and joy into their lives through the images he creates. Many pictures contain specific chapter-and-verse allusions to certain Bible passages. ("Thomas Kinkade Profile," Notable Names Database)

Kinkade died at his Northern California home, which he shared with his girlfriend and personal assistant, Amy Pinto-Walsh. Kinkade was still married but separated from his wife of 30 years, Nanette Kinkade. 


Following Kinkade's death, Pinto-Walsh, 48, made statements to local newspapers saying that Kinkade had died in his sleep and that she was the one who'd called 911 from the home they shared. Pinto-Walsh also identified herself as Kinkade's girlfriend of 18 months, and disclosed that Kinkade and his wife had separated.

Pinto-Walsh said Kinkade "died in his sleep, very happy, in the house he built, with the paintings he loved, and the woman he loved.” ("'Painter of Light' Battled Alcoholism," The Fix)

Nanette Kinkade, Kinkade's business holdings and the Kinkade Family Trust had filed a request for a restraining order against Pinto-Walsh in Santa Clara Superior Court, prohibiting her from speaking about Kinkade publicly.

Pinto-Walsh had signed a confidentiality agreement when she began working as Kinkade's personal assistant, which the family accused her of breaking when she spoke to the media, according to the restraining order filing.

The restraining order was granted by the court but never served on Pinto-Walsh because the family decided to work the matter out privately, a source close to the family told ABC News. (Colleen Curry, "Thomas Kinkade's Death Sparks Feud Over Family, Art Secrets," ABC News, April 30 2012)

Now, the painter's widow and his estate are battling Pinto-Walsh over her comments, claiming she broke the confidentiality agreement when she spoke publicly about Kinkade's health and threatened to disclose information about his family and businesses.

Pinto-Walsh is still living in Kinkade's estate.


Patrick Kinkade, Kinkade's brother, told the San Jose Mercury News newspaper that the painter had battled alcoholism for several years and suffered a relapse before he died.

Patrick Kinkade said his brother had been burdened in recent years by the separation from his wife, financial troubles and the low opinion of his work by critics.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that some of Kinkade's former colleagues, employees, and even collectors of his work say that he had a long history of cursing and heckling other artists and performers. The Times reported he had groped a woman's breast at a South Bend, Indiana sales event and once relieved himself on a Winnie the Pooh figure at the Disneyland Hotel. (Kim Christensen, "Dark Portrait of a `Painter of Light'" The Los Angeles Times, March 5 2006)

In a letter to licensed gallery owners acknowledging he may have behaved badly during a stressful time when he overindulged in food and drink, Kinkade said accounts of the alcohol-related incidents included "exaggerated, and in some cases outright fabricated personal accusations." The letter did not address any incident specifically.
Thomas Kinkade was arrested for drunk driving in 2010, the same year his company filed for bankruptcy.

Why am I writing this post? I feel Kinkade's life was, indeed, a "light" to many, many people. His creations of art that millions could love and "understand" will continue to decorate homes from coast to coast. Kinkade's devotion to Christianity is testimony to his good will. And, his humanitarianism stands as the mark of a kind, caring individual. For example, Kinkade was a national spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Also, in 2002, he won the World Children's Center Humanitarian Award for his contributions to improving the welfare of children and their families through his work with Kolorful Kids and Art for Children.

But wasn't Thomas Kinkade also a hypocrite? Look at his rude behaviors and his addiction. How can a person serve two masters? Isn't his ugly dependency proof of his hypocrisy?

Blogger Jessica Thomas speaks to this very question. Thomas says:

"I will say the church cannot force an addict to follow God’s leading when He answers those prayers for healing. Following is the addict’s responsibility.

"And answer, God will. Probably not with a quick miracle, but with a slow one that requires human cooperation and legwork. Sure, there will be a few addicts who call on Jesus’ name and are suddenly healed, but God requires most addicts to take the long, arduous road of behavior modification and personal discovery.

"I’m going to hazard a guess that Thomas Kinkade was walking down that road when he died. Healing, but not yet healed.
"Does this make him a hypocrite?

"Well. Yeah.

"We’re all hypocrites. It’s the human condition."

(Jessica Thomas,

I'm sure Kinkade's decision to drink heavily and ingest Valium was accidental, not intentional. Yet, this beloved artist was a man without reason during his worst times of surrender to the drugs and the addiction.

Kelly Clark (Gospel of Bill (W), reminds us that two things are wholly true about the intersection of faith and addiction. He says these two things are the following:

* "First, addiction is a powerful disease, fatal if unchecked, and no amount of willpower–as that idea is traditionally understood–can cure it, even when that willpower is brought by a Christian" and

* "Second, Christians, even more than other people, should never be surprised when one of our brothers or sisters gets snared by the hooks of alcoholism or other addiction, relapses, or otherwise struggles in these areas."

What do we know about ourselves? Clark asks. "We are drawn to Christ because of a sense of brokenness, emptiness or incompleteness in our lives. Who more, then, than the addicted might better understand the need for God in the healing person of Christ?"
With so many other mysteries about how God works in the lives of suffering people, we do not know how or why some people are able to turn the key and some not. I do know the world lost the Painter of Light to overdose. As you see a work by Thomas Kinkade, know that a light still burns for those with the disease of addiction. That light is burning thanks to the grace of God and to the continued, dedicated works of people in intervention and rehabilitation.

Maybe, just maybe, the faith of Thomas Kinkade as revealed in the glowing light of his paintings was meant to be a Heavenly message for the simple masses. Artist and Guggenheim Fellow Jeffrey Vallence said, "It is always difficult to present serious religious ideas in an art context. That is why I like Kinkade. It is a difficult thing to do."

Perhaps, Kinkade's legacy is to remind us of the very real threats that confront us all in a difficult world, threats that can even take the life of one who dwells in the grace of the Light.

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