With this self-portrait, Kinkade marks his first tentative steps toward bolder artistic territory. At first glance, the soft pastel sunset and the bucolic village visible off in the distance are nothing new, but look closely at how Kinkade renders himself. With a rigid, unrelenting line, he captures every wrinkle and bloat of his slumped, middle-aged frame, bringing him into sharp contrast with the blurry impressionism of his surroundings.
This encroachment of realism into his work—as well as his decision to paint his mustache using his own feces—is our first hint that Kinkade may not be content with merely being the “Painter of Light.”
Although Kinkade is well known for his use of Christian themes in his work, a more radical departure from his usual lush style could hardly be imagined. His depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Melancholia is almost classically formal. The posed stances of the figures, the richly detailed energy, the dark palette, and sinister forlornness bring to mind Tintoretto. Yet Kinkade avoids simply pilfering the Renaissance by painting himself into the scene as the Roman soldier who is stabbing Christ with a spear.
Melancholia also marks his first use of mixed media, as Kinkade placed throughout the painting dozens of tiny dollar bills he’d made from legal tender. His decision to have Christ spew these bills from his gaping wound while a money-hungry crowd tears itself apart at the foot of the cross is also notable.
The Kinkade Glow
It is rumored that Kinkade was inspired to do this guerrilla-style piece after a chance encounter with Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” on the radio, but what is certain is that he had never before exhibited this kind of confrontational, take-it-to-the-streets minimalism. Seven major cities, 25 street corners, one strobe light, and Kinkade’s genitalia.
Hometown at Suppertime
Kinkade chose the Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery in the Castleton Square Mall in Indianapolis, Indiana, for his first full-scale installation piece. Having emptied the store of merchandise, Kinkade painted every surface an even white and covered it in petroleum jelly. Then, using a series of high-powered projectors, Kinkade bathed the gallery in a re-creation of dusk in one of his picturesque hometowns where every window glowed with the warmth of friends and family.
In the middle of the store, he set a barrel of trash on fire. Dressed in a tailored three-piece suit, Kinkade sat down next to the barrel with a bottle of cinnamon schnapps and drank himself into a stupor. As curious patrons wandered in, he cajoled them for spare change and repeatedly yelled, “Get over yourself, hotshot!” By the time police shut the store down and arrested Kinkade, the artist had made $1.29, mostly in warm pennies and nickels.
The Ultimate Sacrifice
The apotheosis of Kinkade’s experimental phase is a melding of a half-dozen schools. With his largest canvas to date, Kinkade created an uncompromising vision of the end of the world. The painting consists of more than a dozen disparate acts of violence, ranging from scenes of families watching military torture on television to mushroom clouds. Kinkade employs different styles throughout the composition, but the gauzy light of explosions, gunfire, and burning connects the scenes and lends the painting coherence. The violent, lurid glow of Kinkade’s lighting entices and beckons, as if to say that we, as humans, are drawn to self-destruction like moths to flame.
Though The Ultimate Sacrifice was a modest success within the insular art community, longtime fans failed to “celebrate the Painter of Light’s stirring vision of the apocalypse” by purchasing Hallmark’s limited-edition snow globes, and shortly afterward Kinkade abandoned his stylistic experiments.