The Light Shines On Forever: A Tribute to Thomas Kinkade


It’s the light, Thom, that’s what lasts. The leaves are transient. They grow, turn green, turn red and die, but behind them the light lasts forever.- Peter O’Toole (from the film The Christmas Cottage)

Each of us is here for a reason. Whether it is to fulfill a certain dream or God’s plan. Whatever it is, each of us has a special gift for the world, which makes people happy.  Yet many of us do not realize it until someone comes into our lives and uncovers it for us. When that happens, we paint the most vivid colors of life and make people happy at the same time. Through our special gift, we influence others to embrace life and allow their gifts to blossom, like the bud on the tree that is starting to bloom, making the world greener and a nicer place for others to enjoy. And when we leave, we are not forgotten, for even if the leaves whither and fall, the legacy will last forever, the light will stay lit, and someone else will pick up where the other one left off.

Thomas Kinkade was known as the Painter of Light. But how he managed to rise to stardom has a story that goes beyond the lighted streets of Placerville, California. Born in a family where his father left him and his brother at a very young age, his mother kept the family together and went through tough times. But somehow Thomas wanted to be an artist. It was just a question of who can open him up to the world and show him. This is where Glenn Wessels came in. Born in South Africa in 1895, Wessels and his family moved to California, where he became a painter, painting modern western art, creating murals for community centers, and in the end, presenting his own form of art to the students at University of California-Berkeley, the University of Washington, and several small colleges in the San Francisco Bay area. He met Kinkade while at Berkeley, and passed his knowledge down to him in order for the artist to paint about life from where he sees it.

“My mission as an artist is to capture those special moments in life adorned with beauty and light. I work to create images that project a serene simplicity that can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. That is what I mean by sharing the light,” Kinkade stated once for his website. Kinkade’s paintings resembled a Kodak moment that every photographer would dream of capturing if he had the right camera, the right lighting and the right style of photography. It was almost like he was painting a live scene but with more enlightenment and liveliness than it would be, had it been on print. It was like time was standing still and the opportunity came for someone to paint it with the purpose of presenting a sort of realism combined with expressionism. From a point of view of a photographer and journalist, the works of Kinkade far outweigh the majority of photos taken by photographers, which present itself in various forms of expression and light. We are not talking about the photos for the World Press, as the majority of them present a realism in the darkest form with war photos and events that shape society in not the best of advantages of the people. These were photos taken live by photographers who got the lone opportunity before having to flee the bullets, bombs or other bastards who wanted to either shoo them or shoot them. What we are talking about is when a person photographs a certain event in the evening that is full of lights, like a Christmas market, a soccer game, or any campfire event involving family, Kinkade found a way to capture that particular moment that he saw fit and used the brush to bring the scene more into life. It was like a photo that was make with a paint brush, only better.  It is very difficult to explain this phenomenon, but when the Los Angeles Times wrote an obituary about the painter’s death, the journalist presented some of the very best of his works, which can be clicked on here.

Unfortunately, apart from complaints about his conduct with employees and other people (some of which he denied), Kinkade was a target of criticism by many who believed that his paintings were too religious, using a certain formula which is the same for all of his paintings. Even Joan Didion, another contemporary artist and critic wrote that a typical Kinkade painting “featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel.”  Others believed that Kinkade was diluting the quality of his paintings through mass-marketing. One can see books and calendars with Kinkade’s paintings on them at any book store world wide. Yet despite the critics, Kinkade did touch the hearts and minds of millions of people, even his own critics who admired him. “He expresses what he believes and puts that in his art. That is not the trend in the high-art world at the moment, the idea that you can express things spiritually and be taken seriously,” stated Jeffrey Vallance in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. It is understandable that Kinkade was conservative and a devoted Christian, but if there were any types of religious formulas and codes in his paintings, it would be difficult to see them, at least when looking at the paintings up close. Each one had a theme for itself and they were expressed from the painter’s point of view to a point where others had the opportunity to awe and interpret them in any way shape of form.

If one asks a photographer or a painter what started them into their profession, regardless of whether it was full time or part time, four out of five times, one will hear the name Thomas Kinkade come out of his/her mouth. Kinkade was not only a big influence in the world of contemporary art, but he also inspired us to look and appreciate the surroundings we have and capture the moment either under the lens or with a paint brush. While many of us are still grieving and inquiring more about his loss- he died on 9 April at his home in San Francisco at the age of 54- the light did not go out forever. It is still burning, even stronger in saluting him for his work and waiting for the next Painter of Light to pick up where he left off.

In closing, I would like to ask each of you to look at the outside world and your surroundings and ask yourselves “What do you see?” Look closer and if you see something that you love, capture it.  Chances are more likely that if you see something that you love, others will take notice. If you do not, then do not worry, someone will help you show you the way. Kinkade’s success in my opinion was based on looking at what he sees in life and capturing that moment for others to see. Part of that had to do with having the right people to push him to be successful like Wessels. But the other part has to do with what he sees in life and how he can captivate it for others to see and interpret. For any photographer and painter entering the field, you should take this advice and see what is in front of you and what you have. Only then will you know how to be the person you want to be.