‘Painter of Light’ Thomas Kinkade dies in Calif.

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Artist Thomas Kinkade, whose brushwork paintings of idyllic landscapes, cottages and churches have been big sellers for dealers across the United States, died Friday, a family spokesman said.

Kinkade, 54, died at his home in Los Gatos in the San Francisco Bay Area of what appeared to be natural causes, David Satterfield said.

Kinkade called himself the “Painter of Light,” and his sentimental paintings, with their scenes of country gardens and churches in dewy morning light, were beloved by many but reviled by the art establishment.

He claimed to be the nation’s most collected living artist, and his paintings and spin-off products were said to fetch some $100 million a year in sales, and to be in 10 million homes in the United States.

Those light-infused renderings are often prominently displayed in buildings, malls, and on products _ generally depicting tranquil scenes with lush landscaping and streams running nearby. Many contain images from Bible passages.

“I’m a warrior for light,” Kinkade, a self-described devout Christian, told the San Jose Mercury News in 2002, a reference to the medieval practice of using light to symbolize the divine. “With whatever talent and resources I have, I’m trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel.”

Before Kinkade’s Media Arts Group went private in the middle of the past decade, the company took in $32 million per quarter from 4,500 dealers across the country, according to the Mercury News. The cost of his paintings range from hundreds of dollars to more than $10,000.

According to his website, Kinkade’s paintings have been reproduced in hand-signed lithographs, canvas prints, books, posters, calendars, magazine covers, cards, collector plates and figurines. The website touts his Disney collection and offers a gallery locator, where fans can find nearby dealers.

Its online store offers a wide range of works and products with Kinkade images including artworks, prints, and coffee mugs.

His artistic philosophy was not to express himself through his paintings like many artists, but rather to give the masses what they wanted: warm, positive images, Ken Raasch, who co-founded Kinkade’s company with him, told the Mercury News.

“I’d see a tree as being green, and he would see it as 47 different shades of green,” Raasch said. “He just saw the world in a much more detailed way than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

A biography on the website said Kinkade rejected “the intellectual isolation of the artist” and instead, made “each of his works an intimate statement that resonates in the personal lives of his viewers.”

“I share something in common with Norman Rockwell and, for that matter, with Walt Disney, in that I really like to make people happy,” he said.

He called Rockwell his earliest hero. “I remember my mom had a big collection of copies of (Saturday Evening Post) magazines, and that was really my introduction to those great illustrators,” he said.

Kinkade was born and raised in the Placerville, Calif. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

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