Monday, March 13, 2006

He may party like a rock star, but he still produces dreck

By way of Pharyngula, I now know about the dark side of Thomas Kinkade, "Painter of Light."

In litigation and interviews with the Los Angeles Times, some former gallery owners depict Kinkade, 48, as a ruthless businessman who drove them to financial ruin at the same time he was fattening his business associates' bank accounts and feathering his nest with tens of millions of dollars.

Kinkade — whose solely owned Thomas Kinkade Co. is based in Morgan Hill, Calif. — denies these allegations.

Last month, however, a three-member panel of the American Arbitration Assn. ordered his company to pay $860,000 for defrauding the former owners of two failed Virginia galleries. That decision marks the first major legal setback for Kinkade, who won three previous arbitration claims. Five more are pending.

It's not just Kinkade's business practices that have been called into question. Former gallery owners, ex-employees and others say his personal behavior also belies the wholesome image on which he's built his empire.

In sworn testimony and interviews, they recount incidents in which an allegedly drunken Kinkade heckled illusionists Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas, cursed a former employee's wife who came to his aid when he fell off a barstool, and palmed a startled woman's breasts at a signing party in South Bend, Ind.

And then there is Kinkade's proclivity for "ritual territory marking," as he called it, which allegedly manifested itself in the late 1990s outside the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

"This one's for you, Walt," the artist quipped late one night as he urinated on a Winnie the Pooh figure, said Terry Sheppard, a former vice president for Kinkade's company, in an interview.

Kinkade declined The Times' request for an interview but responded to written questions. He labeled those accounts of his personal behavior as "ridiculous" and "crazy allegations...

John Dandois, Media Arts Group's senior director of retail operations from 1995 to 1999, testified in a hearing that the artist was a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde character, whose behavior worsened as the alcohol flowed.

"Thom would be fine, he would be drinking, and then all of a sudden, you couldn't tell where the boundary was," he said. "And then he became very incoherent, and he would start cussing and doing a lot of weird stuff."

Dandois, who left the company to become chief executive of a group of galleries owned by Kinkade's brother, Patrick, recounted that about six years ago the artist was so intoxicated during a performance by Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas that people seated nearby moved away from him.

"I think it was Roy or Siegfried or whatever had a codpiece in his leotards," Dandois testified. "And so when the show started, Thom just started yelling, 'Codpiece, codpiece,' and had to be quieted by his mother and Nanette."

Wonder if he thought that about the famous Bush-playing-flyboy-mission-accomplished photo.

I know, I know, it's not good to speak ill of others.

But Thomas Kinkade is more or less a character; and besides, he pee-peed on the Pooh.

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