Ten years ago, extremely sick from sudden hearing loss and not knowing what the future would hold, Kelowna artist Laurie Koss thought her lifelong dream of being a painter might be over.
Raising two children with her husband, Koss had just started to explore painting flowers without colour, when she was struck with Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL). She was bedridden, had severe vertigo, didn’t know whether she had suffered a stroke or a brain tumour, and was unsure about her dreams or even if she would ever be able to paint again.
Little did she know, 10 years later, Canada Post would be searching her out and asking her to paint for its popular Canadian Flower Series Stamps.
“That experience, laying in bed, wondering what life was all about, I felt my dream was going to end and I never even had a chance,” said Koss, 52, this week. “I always wanted to be a painter—a successful painter. As I lay there I thought I have nothing to lose. I decided I was going to bring my work to a gallery as soon as I was well enough.”
After doctors diagnosed her with SSHL and Koss began to recover, her mother—painter Mary Eagle—drove her to Kelowna’s Hambleton Galleries. Owner Stewart Turcotte had told her he would have a look at her work, but wouldn’t be taking any new artists on.
“I had done about a half dozen paintings exploring flowers without colour,” said Koss. “It was something I had decided to explore. I couldn’t even drive so my mom drove me there and Stewart looked at them and looked at me and he just said there was something really interesting and different. He saw something in me. Had he not taken me on I wouldn’t be here.”
It took a full 18 months for Koss to fully recover from SSHL, although she lost hearing in one ear permanently. But her career was off and running. Over the last decade she has become well known for her flower paintings, using shade and light to explore the intricacies of flowers, from carnations and begonias (her two favourites) to the pansies she was asked to paint for Canada Post.
This week, Koss, along with Canada Post, unveiled the 2015 Canada Post Canadian Flower Series Stamps, featuring two original Koss works of pansies, this time using colour to show the depth and beauty only flowers hold.
More than 100 people jammed into the Hambleton Galleries Monday evening for the official unveiling. A day later, Koss was remembering her start and where it all began, as her paintings began to travel around the world on stamps.
“This is validation, for sure, that I must be doing something right,” she said. “I know what I do is really different that most floral artists. I use flowers as my subjects but I wouldn’t call myself a floral artist. I’m interested mostly in the light and the shade and the natural form because I find flowers incredibly beautiful.”
For gallery owner Stewart Turcotte, seeing Koss grow over the years to the point where she has received some recognition is something special and shows she is doing unique, original work he is proud to display.
“She has reached a very high level with her abilities,” he said. “From the darkest darks to the lightest lights, she has a great critical eye. It’s the sensuous lines in her work. Flowers are female things and you can see the sinuous curves in her works.”
Find our more about Laurie Koss at lauriekoss.com and view many of her original paintings at the Hambleton Galleries at 1290 Ellis Street.