by Drew Dernavich
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” wrote Robert Frost, famously. Could he have been thinking of the yellow wood of “The Aspen Chapel,” featured as the April image in the Thomas Kinkade 2012 calendar? Clearly we have two paths — the familiar unpaved country road on the right-hand side and the sweetly babbling brook on the left. But why two paths, from a painter who has previously perfected and fetishized the depiction of the single charming path? Is there a man vs. nature duality theme here? Is there meaning to the fact that, pictorially speaking, the road gets abruptly cut off by the right end of the frame, while the brook is allowed to fade mysteriously into a mist? Fortunately this is Kinkade, so we can be confident that the answer to these and any other deeper questions is: “meh.” In all likelihood, one of Kinkade’s marketing execs accidentally brushed against his shoulder while he was firing off this image, knocking it off-center.
What we do know is that this chapel image is a fitting one for the month that is the highlight of the Christian calendar. April, of course, contains Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the holidays that mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and which celebrate God’s victory over sin and death. However, this is Kinkade’s Christianity, which means here there is no sin and death to begin with. No, we can’t have that. This cotton-candy Eden certainly does not need saving, and, like Frost’s yellow wood, contains “leaves no feet had trodden black.” This must be the other Easter, the one with the bunny rabbits (see the bunny rabbit in the lower left corner?) and candy baskets, where everything is hunky dory. In that tradition, the proper way to celebrate is by enthusiastically applying pastel paints to a plain white egg. Yeah, sounds about right.
Or maybe there’s another April holiday which is being commemorated here? Consider the options: April 22 is National Jelly Bean Day, April 15 is Rubber Eraser Day, and April 17 is National Cheeseball Day. But perhaps the most fitting occasion is April 4, which is Walk Around Things Day. This is a day to avoid potential problems and risks by, yes, literally walking around them. It’s national conflict avoidance day! This is the day when Kinkade’s work strides up to a number of potent art themes, pauses, and then politely steps to the side without confronting them. Until we have a National Kinkade Day, this will have to do.
And what do we know about the Aspen tree whose golden leaves populate this flickering yellow wood? Aspens are mountain trees that thrive in the raw sunlight but avoid the shade. How appropriate for the Painter of Light! They tend to grow rapidly, but have a short shelf life. Ditto! According to legend, aspen wood, if sharpened into a stake, is the only kind of wood that can kill a vampire. Has Kinkade gone Goth? Can you imagine Stephenie Meyer, the Writer of Vampires, hooking up with the Painter of Light? Lastly, aspen wood is in the salicaceae family. These trees produce salicin, which when metabolized, becomes salicylic acid, or as we know it, aspirin. There is relief from the pain, Kinkade viewers.
Drew Dernavich is a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine (not that cartoonist — the other one) and the co-creator of the cartoon improv show Fisticuffs! He is on Twitter.