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Dark Portrait of a `Painter of Light'

Christian-themed artist Thomas Kinkade is accused of ruthless tactics and seamy personal conduct. He disputes the allegations.

March 05, 2006|Kim Christensen | Times Staff Writer

"Thom wanders over to Winnie the Pooh and decides to 'mark his territory,' " Sheppard told The Times.

In a deposition, the artist alluded to his practice of urinating outdoors, saying he "grew up in the country" where it was common. When pressed about allegedly relieving himself in a hotel elevator in Las Vegas, Kinkade said it might have happened.

"There may have been some ritual territory marking going on, but I don't recall it," he said.

Kinkade's memory also was fuzzy when he was asked during the arbitration proceedings about a signing party in Indiana that went awry in August 2002.

Held at a South Bend hotel, the party began sedately enough as Kinkade met with a group of Signature gallery owners to sign stacks of prints. Some who were there say it was a goodwill gesture by the artist to smooth relations with dealers, who could sell the signed pieces at a premium.

After the larger group dispersed, Kinkade and others moved to a smaller room for a private signing with Michigan gallery owner Cote and some of his employees. Champagne was served, then hard liquor. By various accounts, most of the partyers overindulged, including Kinkade and Cote.

At one point, according to testimony and interviews with Cote and three others who were there, Kinkade polled the men in the room about their preferences in women's anatomies.

"He was having a conversation with the men in the room about whether they like breasts or butts," said Lori Kopec, Cote's director of gallery operations, who also testified about the party. "There were only two women in the room, and I was very uncomfortable at that point."

It was during that bawdy discussion, according to arbitration records, that Kinkade turned his attention to the other woman.

"He approached [her] and he palmed her breasts and he said, 'These are great tits!' " Ernie Dodson, another Cote employee, told The Times, adding that he drank no alcohol that night. "I was just standing in the corner in amazement. It was like, holy cow!"

The woman whom Kinkade allegedly fondled confirmed to The Times that he touched her breasts without her consent. She spoke on condition of anonymity, saying she was embarrassed and concerned for her family's privacy.

Cote and Kopec said they also saw the alleged groping.

"She let out a yelp and backed away," Kopec said. "That's when I knew he had actually touched her."

Kinkade testified in a deposition that excessive drinking and "some normal rowdy talk" had taken place, but when confronted with the groping allegation, he denied touching the woman.

"But you've got to remember," he said, "I'm the idol to these women who are there. They sell my work every day, you know. They're enamored with any attention I would give them. I don't know what kind of flirting they were trying to do with me. I don't recall what was going on that night."

In response to The Times' written questions, Kinkade did not address any specific incident.

"It does disappoint me when people I have tried to help and befriend make crazy allegations about me," he said. "I am a big fan of imagination, but the specific allegations you have described to me are ridiculous and I feel like the victim of a legal stalker."

He described himself as "an average, hard-working guy who just happens to be a famous artist" and said he didn't take himself too seriously.

In the recent arbitration case, he also testified that he had never claimed to be perfect.

"Book of Ecclesiastes says enjoy yourself, have a glass of wine, for this is God's will for you," he said. "It's never consistent with God's will that we behave in a sinful way; however, God also loves us and accepts us and understands that at times we have our failings."

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