Popular modern artist Thomas Kinkade, the self-proclaimed “Painter of Light” and briefly a UC Berkeley student, died in his Northern California home Friday. He was 54.
Known for his mass-produced and marketed paintings of popular realistic, bucolic and idyllic subjects, Kinkade was at one time a studio art major at UC Berkeley and a cartoonist for The Daily Californian.
His politically infused comic strip — called “Drainage Ditch” — ran in the Daily Cal between September and November 1976. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Kinkade dropped out of UC Berkeley because he was not in tune with the school’s art instructors.
“The philosophy was you vs. the world, and screw the world — you’re the artist,” the Mercury reported he said.
He later attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
The mission of Kinkade’s work was to capture “those special moments in life adorned with beauty and light” and make it available to a mass population, according to his website.
Kinkade claimed that his art was in one of every 20 houses in the United States.
Many art critics tended to look less positively upon his work.
Kinkade died in his home in Monte Sereno in Northern California. As of Monday, the cause of Kinkade’s death remained unknown, although his family released a statement saying it was due to natural causes. An autopsy is under way, according to the Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office.
Janice Smith, owner of Smith Cottage Gallery in Fremont — a Thomas Kinkade official gallery — said she is still in shock over Kinkade’s death.
“We lost a very talented artist, loving father and husband,” Smith said. “I am still in shock — it caught us all off guard, but his art will live on and continue to inspire and touch millions of people.”
Smith said Kinkade wrote the scripture John 3:16 on all of his paintings because he was a devoted Christian.
A translation of the line reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but having everlasting light.”
“He tried to embody this quote in all of his paintings,” Smith said.
Los Gatos Mayor Steve Rice said Kinkade was a spiritual and philanthropic artist who donated his time and paintings to charities in Los Gatos.
“He was a bigger-than-life character, engaged, gregarious, an all-around wonderful man, and this is a significant loss to the community and his art collectors,” Rice said.
After news of his death spread on Saturday, fans and critics alike remembered Kinkade on Twitter and Facebook.
He “went to that big country cottage next to a lighthouse on a cliff in the sky. He went towards the painted light,” one fan tweeted.
Others expressed shock, condolences for his family and happiness at his passing.
He is survived by his wife, Nanette, along with four daughters.
The family is having their own private service, but there might be a more public service for the gallery owners and the general public later on, Smith said.