Populist art is always fabulous; elitist, obscure, “serious” art is a big yawn. It’s just that simple. LeRoy Neiman, Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Patrick Nagel: These are color-lovin’, dolce vita funsters whose accessible, upbeat oeuvre can be counted upon to enliven even a squalid, vermin-ridden hovel like yours.
Populist art is, thankfully, never “about” anything other than enhancing one’s mood. It is, by definition, a shared joy: Toulouse-Lautrec’s gaudy posters decorated smelly, syphilitic fin-de-siècle Paris; Tretchikoff’s Blue Lady , which adorned every home during my childhood, raised up the fragile spirit of postwar Britain. And popular artists, unlike their more intellectual contemporaries, can actually paint. Check out the technique on the heroic, heavy-metal fantasy extravaganzas of Boris Vallejo (you know the ones! He paints those Raquel Welch–type broads in skimpy leather bikinis riding warty prehistoric rhinos, which requires a lot more skill than a Pollock or a Rothko).
BUT! There’s a new artist on the fromage circuit who has ambushed my personal popular-art crusade. I’m talking about the “painter of light” himself, Thomas Kinkade-not to be confused with Rubin Kincaid, the manager of the Partridge Family. Thomas Kinkade is America’s most collected living artist, a painter-communicator whose tranquil, light-infused team-daubed paintings bring hope and joy to millions each year-or so says the brochure I received when a perverse and sadistic friend bought me a year’s membership to the Thomas Kinkade Collectors’ Society.
Despite the misty Christian underpinnings of his work, the 45-year-old Mr. Kinkade is a mogul of Trumpian stature, a stop-at-nothing merchandiser whose $600 million empire is fueled by 350 eponymous galleries, sofa licenses, wallpapers, night-lights, La-Z-boy chairs, a novel, a planned community called Hiddenbrooke, endless QVC appearances-all of which would be fine, except for the fact that the art consistently fails to deliver any of the much-vaunted “hope and joy.”
Permit me to explain. The excruciatingly twee Kinkade oeuvre consists of biblically inspired, light-infused romantic landscapes: rustic, wisteria-strangled villages, babbling brooks straddled by mossy stone bridges, rose-enrobed Cotswold cottages with gently smoking chimneys, glistening gazebos, lighthouses, etc. Though clearly intended to impart a cozy, fresh-baked-muffin, home-at-last feeling, this overload of feel-good iconography creeps me out deeply. It’s not my fault! Mr. Kinkade provides no clear narrative and no clues as to what is occurring behind those misty hedgerows and suspiciously glowing lattice windows, leaving me to assume the worst. Is Mrs. Kinkade pulling a Bundt cake out of her oven? Is Granny Kinkade faggoting the perimeter of a doily? I don’t think so!
As far as I’m concerned, inside every Kinkade cottage is a veritable bloodbath, a Pasolini-esque hellhole where-at the very least-children are cannibalized, and Granny Kinkade is fed dead rats by Satan and forced to admit to terrible crimes she never committed. Come back to the five and dime, David Lynch, David Lynch.
Before you dismiss me as a certifiable lunatic, why not take the Kinkade Rorschach test yourself and see what you come up with when you project your imagination onto kinky Kinkadeville? Are there decomposing bodies buried under those luscious peonies and dew-drenched lupins? Don’t be stupid, of course there are!
Back to that vermin-ridden hovel of yours: If you have a few bucks in your art budget, you could do worse than log onto www.adoraporcelain.com. This site sells ceramic plates-a longtime favorite medium of popular artists-by smarty-pants art stars like Jack Pierson, Karen Kilimnik and others. My pick: John Waters’ The Girls , a set of three 101¼4-inch plates, each adorned with photographs of three ghastly mannequin busts-Kim, Tina and Kathy-which inhabit Mr. Waters’ Baltimore abode and which he creepily claims have become his “friends.” This $600 limited edition-hang ’em, don’t lick ’em!-will be available in late August at the New Museum of Contemporary Art and Printed Matter. Call 212-929-1404 for more info, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week I spoke to Mr. Waters, who is summering in Cape Cod, and asked him if his plates held any appeal for Kinkade lovers, “Well, no,” replied the legendary cinematic provocateur, “The girls on my plates would kick his ass and set his studio on fire.”
Hope and joy!