Arts Beat

'Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage'

Jean Shin, who makes installation art such as 2001's
Jean Shin, who makes installation art such as 2001's "Chance City," wants old trophies to her for "Everyday Monuments," coming to the Smithsonian. (By Masahiro Noguchi)
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By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thomas Kinkade paints erotica. We'll say that one more time, to make sure it sinks in. Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light (his trademarked phrase), who sells millions of soft-focus prints of folksy cottages, lighthouses and villages, paints naked ladies in his spare time. They are not available on ThomasKinkade.com.

His naughty hobby came to (ahem) light during a conversation about the new biographical, straight-to-DVD film "Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage." Kinkade, 50, painted a San Francisco landscape this week while he spoke by phone from his California studio.

"I really resist the critical establishment who loves to portray me as Pat Boone with a paintbrush, a goody-goody guy with a halo over his head," says Kinkade, who is Christian.

"Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage" opens with Kinkade (played by young Jared Padalecki) sketching his half-clothed girlfriend in an art studio at the University of California at Berkeley in 1977. He gently adjusts the sheet so he can see more of her . . . shoulder.

That's the beginning and end of the erotica in "Thomas Kinkade's Christmas Cottage" (tagline: "Love is the brightest light of all"). The plot revolves around Kinkade coming home for the holidays to find that his mother (portrayed by Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden) is on the verge of losing the family cottage to foreclosure. To earn $500, Kinkade paints a mural of his small home town of Placerville, Calif., under the guidance of his mentor (Peter O'Toole).

In real life, that mentor, painter Glenn Wessels, built his studio about 100 feet from Kinkade's home, a stroke of luck that Kinkade calls "one of the great moments of destiny in my life." In the film, O'Toole's character is in poor health and trying to create one last masterpiece. He advises Kinkade: "The light lasts forever. Paint the light!"

This sort of expert/apprentice relationship also existed off-set for O'Toole and Padalecki, the hunky 26-year-old star on the CW's "Supernatural."

"He sort of took me under his wing," Padalecki says. "We went into his trailer and talked about acting and the way he prepares and studies and builds characters. I just shut my mouth and kept my ears open."

The film originally was slated for a Christmas 2007 theatrical release, but then Lionsgate decided to send it direct to DVD. "We felt this was the best way to bring the film to the fans," said a Lionsgate spokeswoman. Kinkade, who produced the film and makes a cameo appearance, alluded to a change in leadership and budgeting issues at the studio: "Tough choices were made."

Lack of money isn't something that Kinkade often faces. An estimated 12 million to 15 million homes feature some "Thomas Kinkade: Painter of Light" product -- perhaps a painting or a less-expensive print, which is touched up by company-certified highlighters. Fans can sip tea from a Thomas Kinkade teacup ($29.95), hit the links in a Thomas Kinkade golf shirt ($69), then sleep in the glow of a Thomas Kinkade night light ($14.99). There's even a housing development -- "The Village, a Thomas Kinkade Community" near Vallejo, Calif. No word on whether people must keep the lights on at all times.

Mocking Thomas Kinkade is perhaps the one activity that brings the art world together (one of his nicknames is "Painter Lite"). There was a minor hullabaloo last month when London's ArtReview magazine put Kinkade in the No. 100 slot on its "Power 100" list of the most powerful people in the art world. The Los Angeles Times called it "a joke."

Although the movie takes some liberties with Kinkade's life story (one of his siblings is featured; the other is omitted completely), viewers learn that Kinkade's home life wasn't the cozy utopia portrayed in his art. His parents divorced when he was 5, and his father was a drinking, womanizing World War II veteran.


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