Tactile feelings: Silverton Fine Arts Festival poster artist strives to put kids in touch with art

August 2019 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, People

Laura Koppes with her poster for the 2019 Silverton Fine Arts Festival, “Blue Basin.” Submitted Photo

By Brenna Wiegand

The painting chosen to represent this year’s Silverton Fine Arts Festival was the result of an earth-shaking experience.

Artist Laura Koppes of Tigard painted “Blue Basin” after a visit to the Painted Hills in Central Oregon.

“I’d seen all kinds of pictures of it and it just looked too perfect,” she said. “On my way there I was telling myself it’s not going to be as great as I thought – but it was.

“There’s this place sitting there that’s just magic… and nobody’s there,” she said. “It was one of those things where I just kept getting chills on my arms.”

Though her original intention was to be an art therapist, Koppes ended up having kids instead and for the next 10 years found other ways to get art into kids’ lives, teaching all sorts of after-school classes and spending little time on her own painting. About 10 years ago she decided to shift her focus.

“I started painting seriously… and was doing that pretty much for myself,” Koppes said. “After a couple years I started getting asked to show my work and it just kept growing and then about two years ago I started focusing on it full time.”

However, she remains a Portland Art Museum docent, giving exclusively kids tours.

Over her past few years as an exhibitor, Silverton Fine Arts Festival has become a favorite for the artist.

“It’s nice-sized and it seems like a super supportive art community and that everybody really comes out for the festival,” said Koppes, adding that such shows and being a docent build her confidence as an artist and help her to connect with others.

“I think our society is getting much less connected with each other and I like finding ways for people to have interesting, engaging conversations,” she said. “I like talking to people about art and I like art that is fairly subjective. When I tour with kids I pick a huge variety of things that they can really use their imagination with.

“The art that I make is kind of like that; very expressionistic; all about how I feel about the things that I’m painting as opposed to being entirely representational; kind of like writing little diaries…”

For her this means seeking authenticity over perfection.

“I sand my paintings; I scrub them; I have been known to take paintings I was mad at and throw them around the back yard like a Frisbee,” she said. “In Blue Basin I collaged on a number of pieces that were ripped up from paintings I had discarded.

“When I taught art to kids, I did not want them to be concerned about how it was going to turn out; just the making of it is incredibly valuable,” Koppes said.

“It’s getting harder and harder to sell fine art because people are getting used to instant gratification; print out a picture; tomorrow throw it in the trash,” she said. “I think a sense of permanency is getting lost too. We need to touch and manipulate things with our hands; it’s a totally different sense of connection.

“The one thing that everybody is going to need is creativity,” Koppes said. “We can teach everything, but we have no idea what the world will look like in five years and what will be relevant, but creativity is used in everything.

“Kindergartners enjoy doing art because they think everything they do is perfect and they are not thinking about whether it’s going to be good enough for mom to put in a frame.”

Koppes said going to an art festival is the least intimidating way for a person to look at art.

“I talk to every child who comes in and they can touch all my paintings,” Koppes said. “It freaks out the parents and I learned the hard way to be sure and tell them this is the only booth where you can touch the paintings.”

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