Flash by Sailor Jerry
To get a sense of the Painter of Light™, a good place to start is Susan Orlean's October 15, 2001 New Yorker profile piece titled, Art for Everybody
"One recent sultry afternoon, inside the Bridgewater Commons mall, in central New Jersey, across from The Limited, down the hall from a Starbucks, next door to the Colorado Pen Company, and just below Everything Yogurt, a woman named Glenda Parker was making a priceless family heirloom for a young couple and their kid. This was taking place in the Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery, a plush anerd flatteringly illuminated, independently owned, branded distribution channel for the art-based products of America's most profitable artist, Thomas Kinkade."
Orlean article eviserates Kinkade by systematically and dispassionately examinating his art in the context of his business model.
I prefer to start with an individual that is as close to his inverse as imaginable. Tattoo artist Ed Hardy
, whose life is depicted in the documentry, Tattoo the World
, is the anti-Kinkade -- one for whom love kills rather than redeems.
Ed Hardy graduated from the San Fransisco Art Institute and was accepted in Yale's MFA program.
Instead, he became a tattoo artist -- a protogee of Sailor Jerry
, who created a number of iconic tattoo designs during his career in Hawaii.
This particular tattoo builds on Sailor Jerry's original, but adds more contemporary vices -- represented by the hypodermic needle, pills, and a single edge razor bladeto prepare coke or another snortable substance.
Matt submitted this tatto
o on the web site, ratemyink.com, along with the comment that he "...just got this on my ribs, and all of these elements were my downfalll."
If Kinkade is the painter of light, then Hardy is the illustrator of the dark side.
Kinkade aspired to be dignified, uplifting and comfortable. Hardy is vulgar and edgy.
Kinkade's core argument is that his work is accessable to ordinary people, both for its straight forward themes and its commercial availibility. Kinkade disdained critical acclaim in favor of affirmation by markets and the emotional response of his customers.
Susan Orlean describes a transaction in the New Jersey mall:
"Is this your first Kinkade?" Glenda asked the young woman. They were sitting in front of a large easel, on which the couple's picture had been propped. Beside Glenda was a digital kitchen timer, which she had set for the highlighting time limit of fifteen minutes, and a Lucite palette heaped with small blobs of oil paint.
"Yes," the woman said. "It's our first."
"Well, congratulations," Glenda said. She smiled warmly.
"My grandmother just passed away," the young woman said. "The money she left for me -- it wasn't quite enough to invest, but I didn't want it to just disappear. My sister also inherited money from my grandmother, and she bought a Kinkade, too."
"Well, that's wonderful," Glenda said. "You picked a great one."
Purchasing an image to commerate a life event isn't unlike getting a tattoo. Any casual viewer of LA Ink or similar reality television will recognize that the motivation for a tattoo is frequently to commerate a life event. A birth, a death, heartbreak, sobriety or, on occasion, despair (ie. Born to Lose).
Which is perhaps the most obvious similarity between these two very different Californians.
They were both raised by mothers in the absense of a father in the home. They are both boomers, with the elder Hardy and the younger Kinkade bracketing the age cohert.
After art school, they both pursued more populist and less academic careers.
Both dealt with straightforward themes. Their work featured symbolism that didn't require a lot of heavy thought and is rooted in sentimentality and nostalgia.
Their appeal was emotional rather than intellectual. Hardy's art was drawn on a canvas of flesh and blood -- Kinkade's higher priced products contain a gold, machine etched signature on the front of the canvas which contains his DNA (or on the master editions, his thumbprint on the back).
Hardy's work was secular and focused on the falibility of man and pesimistic regarding the human condition, while Kinkade aspired to portray a sacred vision which optimistically focused on the potential for redemption.
They were both products of their time. Profoundly anti-establishment. It is obvious in Hardy's work, but Kinkade catered to Evangelical Christians who rebelled against traditional Protestant religious institutions.
In the last decade, Hardy retired from tattooing as he became a brand
. Not only Has Hardy moved toward a modern marketing entity, but Sailor Jerry -- or more specifically his estate since he died in 1973 -- has become a brand
Aside from content, Kinkade and Hardy's paths diverged as Kinkade found a way to scale his work for mass distribution. Tattooing is inherently bespoke. You can't fully automate it and you can't outsource it to India or China.
As Kinkade's business model faltered due to over expansion and the housing bust (the average new house has 40 new walls), Hardy began his transformation to design, severing the connection of his images from their flesh and blood canvas. Hardy became fully scalable.
It is as if their paths were mirror images -- crossing at the beginning (prestigous traditional art schools) and the end (contemporary marketing and commerce). Light, Dark, Light. And their personal lives seem to have crossed, as Hardy becomes a celebrity and Kinkade withdraws from the public.
What are shadows without light? And vice versa.