First published in The Emporia Gazette November 29, 2005
LOUIS PAINTS KANSAS
by Cheryl Unruh
No one paints a Kansas sky as well as Louis Copt.
While viewing Louie’s landscapes, I feel as if I’m standing in those grassy fields with his cumulous clouds expanding above my head.
Maybe I like his paintings so much because I live in town. Because I long to see nothing but sky above me. Because some days I need to be where the heavens brush the earth.
I first met Louis Copt, 56, two years ago when he and Stan Herd painted the “Springtime in the Flint Hills” mural at Sixth and Merchant Streets.
Recently I visited him in his studio.
Louis and his wife Phyllis, native Emporians, live in the hills near Lawrence in a light-filled home they built a few years ago.
“I don’t have to go very far (for inspiration), just step out the door,” he said, “Looking out the window here--usually it’s quite a show just about every day.”
His studio, off their kitchen, is a bright, friendly space with a high ceiling, windows, skylights, incandescent and florescent lighting.
Electronic music bounces from his computer. A dozen paintings hang on the walls.
He’s working on a summer landscape, but as seasons go, fall and winter offer better lighting for artists.
“The sun is lower on the horizon so you get more of what I call the National Geographic lighting … you get that raking light,” he said.
Louis earned his reputation with watercolors, but now works mainly in oils.
“I work on three or four paintings at the same time,” he said. “I’ll work on this one until it’s too wet and then I’ll get another.”
He grabbed a tool and placed it along the horizon.
“This is a painter’s edge. It’s a must-have tool for Kansas painters,” he laughed.
Pointing out two barn paintings, Louis said, “Those barn shapes have a lot of meaning for me from my childhood.”
One painting focuses on a slightly off-kilter white barn. The other shows only a barn’s roof top with its sharp, dark angles. Troubled gray clouds fill the canvas.
“My friends call this ‘the scary barn,’” he said, “It’s a barn, but
it’s not a happy, cliché barn.”
Louis received a B.A. in art from Emporia State University in 1971. He spent seven years in an advertising job with Maupintour.
“I’m not a corporate guy,” he said. “Always in the back of my mind was…‘I need to be an artist. I need to be an artist.’”
He began painting full-time in 1984. Louis has studied at The Art Students League of New York and The University of Kansas. He’s taught classes at KU and the Lawrence Arts Center.
“Legacy of Light,” one of Louie’s fire paintings, is on the cover of Jim Hoy’s new book, “Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales from the Tallgrass Prairie,” which will be released in the spring. The University Press of Kansas has also used that painting for the cover of their 2006 spring and summer catalog.
Louis’ paintings hang on walls across the United States and in Spain, Japan, France and Russia.
When asked about his success, he replied, “I’ve been at this for a long time. It takes hard work and perseverance.”
“If not for my wife, I wouldn’t be (where I am). She’s always had faith in me,” Louis said.
“OK, I’m going for it,” he laughed, painting a vertical green line over the clouds--adding a tree to his landscape.
“This is the hard part, painting over stuff. ‘Cause if I screw it up, I have to come back and repaint the whole sky.”
He paints every day: fires, skies, hills, barns, grass, trees, rivers, roads.
When we view Louie’s paintings, we get to stand in his world.
And what a wonderful world that is.
Louis Copt's work can be viewed at www.louiscopt.com.
Want to read more about Louis? "A Day in the Life."
Copyright 2005 by Cheryl Unruh