Colorful acrylic paints streak a window in Pride colors. Seven shaded, conversant faces peer back — Federico García Lorca, Angela Davis, Truman Capote, Yukio Mishima, James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf.
Every author painted on the front window of Beausoleil Books & Whisper Room is or was an openly gay activist.
The mural was created by Ben Koch, an art teacher at Broussard Middle School and an openly gay man.
“This is to educate. These are seven people that you probably have no idea who they are, so hopefully this is a great way to kind of learn, open themselves up to different perspectives,” he said. “I don’t want to push a certain agenda. I just want to commemorate certain people.”
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Over the past four days, since he’s been working on the Beausoleil Books piece, he’s had all walks of life come up and encourage the work he is doing.
“Sometimes it’s like not even, like, what it is. Just the act of doing it is kind of invigorating people,” he said.
He was already slated to paint Beausoleil Books’ window mural when his “glow up blow up” started. The rise in popularity was hatched with the purchase of his piece at Scratch Farm Kitchen. It depicts a blue heron wading in a marsh teeming with life.
Being close friends with the manager at Beausoleil, Koch was given artistic freedom to create a Pride mural. He started with odd numbers, something he prefers, and wanted to send the message of what Beausoleil Books is about — education and representation.
“I wanted to make sure I looked up authors that were openly gay, said that they were gay in their writing and in public spaces. You don’t want to assume that someone’s gay, so I did a little bit of research. I wanted to represent a bunch of different ethnicities,” he said.
If he could, he would have more women and more transgender representation. But he chose 19th-century authors that “paved the way for others.”
But he didn’t think he would become a teacher.
His experience started with his niece who has Asperger’s. For the first three years of her life, she did not communicate. Koch found common ground with her through art.
“But every time I would do art with her, she was opening up,” he said. “It was the best way for us to make contact with her.”
He realized he had a natural talent for teaching art to kids. And this year it came full circle.
“What’s so crazy is that she’s now going to the same school that I teach at. So I get to bring her to school,” he said.
He’s looking forward to showing his niece the final product, even with the impending rain.
“I like when things are destroyed and recreated. It’d be so cool if the rain kind of did something so I can kind of add to it,” he said.
Before teaching, he graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and had a studio at Basin Arts.
But Koch has always been involved with art. The moment hHe realized he had artistic drive in the third grade. He won a class project of coloring a butterfly, but he was only given one crayon.
“I was like “How did I win with just one color?’ But I guess I had all these different pressures and values that I created. And like all these patterns,” he said. “And that’s what I knew I could do something with this.”
Growing up, he was obsessed with looking through his mom’s Vogue magazines and recreating drawings.
“They (his parents) always said I was just really drawn to things that were beautiful. Women, cheetah print, nature, I was always reveling in things that are gorgeous,” he said.
This morphed into Koch creating beauty with his own work.
“Art is just fun to make. Especially whenever you can have the power to do whatever you want, more freedom. Especially when it comes to like gay rights. I’m gay myself so it’s like I’m coming out to Jefferson Street,” He said, a smile spread across his face.
Growing up gay and aware of it in Crowley, he used private catholic school as a way to escape. He felt protected in the bubble.
“But luckily, I had my family who was super supportive, always,” he said. “In fact, they were the ones that were like ‘You’re getting Barbies at four years old because you love to play with hair.'”
While creating the mural, numerous people have come up and recognized the authors on the window. Much like when he was a child, being able to recreate a face or a scene of a book or movie is some of his favorite work to do.
His true passion is collages. He has a piece in the UL museum of his grandmother created from blanket pieces, but he loves working with paper and glue.
“I like to make my own glue.” He said with a laugh. “I shred paper. I try to do a lot of recycling. I’m kind of all over the place. As a teacher, you kind of have to know all the processes to teach them.”
Art is an escape for him. He manipulates the therapy it provides into “things that are pretty.” It’s why he loves the process of creating paper. The act of sponging paper in the mold and deckle is therapeutic to him, something he hopes to relay to his students.
“I try my best to teach mindfulness in ways that make sense to them,” he said.
Following the wave of his “glow up blow up,” Koch plans to create more window pieces like the ones at Scratch Farm Kitchen. He aims to get a grant with downtown Lafayette to create a permanent piece.
“Lafayette is known for that,” he said. “So I want to live in that legacy.”
Another legacy he hopes to leave is embracing one’s own sexual orientation through education and through his pieces like Beausoleil Books’ window mural.
“I try my best to educate, you know, talk about things rather than kind of like ‘liking’ something and just moving on. So I’m just embracing my own sexuality.”
Contact Victoria Dodge at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Victoria_Dodge
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