Thursday, July 2, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light”(TM) who describes himself as “America’s most collected artist,” recently rendered Las Vegas in a painting that went on sale this week.
The painting is titled, with singular lack of imagination, “Viva Las Vegas.”
If you live in Las Vegas, the first thing you’ll notice is that Kinkade’s vision of Vegas is quite different from what you would see if you were to fly over the Strip.
The painting is like one of those “what’s wrong with this picture” puzzles from when we were kids. The Luxor, for instance, is waaay off the Strip and oriented incorrectly. The fabled Fabulous Las Vegas sign is utterly out of place and out of scale. Even after you figure out that the painting’s point of view is actually facing west down Tropicana Boulevard toward an apocalyptic sunset, the placement of landmarks is eye-crossingly confusing.
Kinkade was in town last weekend for the unveiling of the original painting, and the event, in a banquet room at New York-New York, was a combination of art gallery, cocktail party and sales event. Several hundred Kinkade kollectors wandered amid the easels and stacked paintings bordering the room, which were punctuated by bars and carving stations.
Original and reproduction paintings of cozy cottages and snowscapes (available in small, medium and large) were being marketed with the relentlessness of Strip-adjacent time shares. In the Kinkade manner, this gauntlet of paintings was called “the Walk of Light.”
Before taking the stage to auction off an instant pencil sketch that he called, naturally, “The Cottage of Hope” (it fetched $8,500 from a San Diego couple), Kinkade agreed to a rare, brief chat with this reporter, the sun-shunning, heat-loathing Writer of Shade(TM). He walked me through the creation of his latest city portrait (he has also painted tributes to San Francisco and Salt Lake City).
“I was flying into Las Vegas in a small private plane, and I flew over the Strip,” said Kinkade, a frequent Vegas visitor. “And this vintage view struck my eye, the sunset over Tropicana Boulevard. So I had this idea that I want to paint (Vegas) almost like a fantasy world. I used a few different motifs to enhance it. I created this sense of swirling birds, seagulls, that’s kind of a fantasy — you don’t see a lot of birds in the sky around here,” he said with a chuckle. “But I love the idea that the activity is continuing; it’s as though everywhere you look, there’s action and activity going on.”
Kinkade acknowledges taking more than a few liberties with the Las Vegas skyline.
“I removed some of the more flamboyant new structures,” he says, massively understating the oddness of the finished product. The massive CityCenter complex, for instance, is nonexistent. There’s no Wynn and no Bellagio, either, even though that’s where Kinkade and his wife, Nanette, were staying on this trip.
“I also got rid of Hooters,” confessed Kinkade, 51, who is revered as a rock star among his collectors, but is just a guy, sort of shlubby, sweating through his untucked Western-style button-up shirt. “I love Hooters as a place to visit, but I wouldn’t want it framed on my wall. So I noticed that Hooters and Kinkade have sort of the same number of letters, so I thought I’ll put my own hotel in there.”
Generations of Las Vegas performers seem to be in town for this frozen moment in time. Marquees and billboards advertise shows by Liberace, Wayne Newton, Frank Sinatra and Celine Dion. Elvis — “the patron saint of Vegas entertainment,” Kinkade calls him — hovers benevolently over the scene, on the side of the Goodyear blimp.
“Every painting I do blends time frames,” Kinkade explained. “The great thing about being an artist is I can make the past join the present in some reality of the future.”
The painting, which retails in reproduction for $190 (unframed on paper) to $1,020 (framed on canvas) at the Kinkade gallery at the Fashion Show Mall, has near-microscopic detailing. Kinkade jokes that if you used a magnifying glass you might discover “some wild passionate sex going on” within a hotel window.
And it looks quite different from most of Kinkade’s other work, not only because it doesn’t depict a radiantly bucolic scene.
“I used a field of warm colors and then I used cool colors as accents; I usually do the reverse. And a lot of my work is very rendered; this is more impressionistic and vibrant,” Kinkade said.
Think LeRoy Neiman.
“When he was active, Neiman was associated with Las Vegas because he had a touch that was vibrant and alive; he painted a lot of casino subject matter,” said Kinkade, who also puts himself in the company of Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell. “So I kinda, in a way, made the painting a little bit of a tribute to his style.”
Kinkade said he started his art career as a background painter for films, making matte paintings for special effects. And Las Vegas, through Kinkade’s eyes, is “the equivalent of a motion picture experience. It’s theatrical. It’s larger than life. Everything about the city inspires.”
Las Vegas, he concluded before heading off to address his fans, “is an eternal city like Rome, it’s a city of shrines. I wanted the sense that there was luminosity embroiling the scene from the sky and then from the different man-made shrines to entertainment and gaming. I wanted (the painting) to have a sense of the sky suggesting eternal life and down here we have the temporary playgrounds of mankind.”