For Scottsdale Artist Laura Thurbon, Everything is a Canvas
For Scottsdale artist and educator Laura Thurbon, anything can be a canvas, from walls and clothing to even some unlikely surfaces. The painter recently pulled out her brushes to transform two large utility boxes in downtown Fountain Hills into vibrant murals depicting desert birds and plants. “Beauty is for everyone,” says Thurbon, who is originally from Peru. “That’s the reason why I love painting public art.” You may have also seen Thurbon’s work walking down the runway—her dresses appeared at New York Fashion Week last fall.
We caught up with Thurbon about her work, what inspires her and found out how she perfected her English—and how it brought her to Arizona.
What first interested you in art and painting?
I have always been interested in art since I was a young child. I was the only kid who instead of fairytale books, I carried around an art encyclopedia. My favorite was classical Renaissance art … lots of nudes. I understood nudity as art and never questioned the beauty of a human body as nothing more than from an artistic standpoint; and I was only 6 years old! My mother used to tell the story that I was very hyper, and the only thing that helped me focus and calm me down was drawing. I think I am still the same way.
When I was 16 years old, I won an international competition, created my first public mural, had my first art teaching job and entered the Fine Art School of Lima. Being an artist was everything I always wanted.
Is painting your primary medium?
Yes. I like sculpting, drawing, illustrating and tattooing, but painting is my passion, especially big walls where I feel the rush and freedom of painting huge areas with spray paint.
What brought you to the United States and to Arizona?
I was born and raised in Lima, Peru. I studied and finished three art careers and also graduated as an ESL [English as a Second Language] teacher. While I was working as an ESL teacher at an American institute in Lima, I asked one of my coworkers how she practiced English to be so proficient in a second language, and she suggested having pen pals to practice my written skills. When she gave me the website, to my surprise, it was a dating site.
I wrote to an American guy, who ended up being my husband. He is from Arizona, so I decided to leave my home, family, job, art career, culture and friends for love. I was 24 at that time. We ended up divorcing after a decade of being together, but we have two beautiful and talented girls who are my strength and inspiration every day of my life.
My deepest inspiration is bringing joy to humanity—to bring art and beauty to everyone, no matter their socio-cultural or economic situation.
-Laura Thurbon, artist
When you’re creating art, what’s your process like, and what inspires your work?
My deepest inspiration is bringing joy to humanity—to bring art and beauty to everyone, no matter their socio-cultural or economic situation. Beauty is for everyone. That’s the reason why I love painting public art: It can be seen, enjoyed and appreciated by everyone and it can bring joy or hope to whoever sees it.
What’s the most unique spot you’ve ever done a mural?
I have done murals in the street, malls, rentals, hospitals, schools, businesses, floors and stairways, but utility boxes are fun to paint, and it changes a simple box to a standing artwork, a monument of beauty.
I think the most unique places I have created murals are on dresses. I have done fashion shows with my hand-painted dresses. I was featured in New York Fashion Week in 2023. I’ve been called a fashion designer for my “wearable art,” but to me, I’m still an artist who paints over any surface, from body art on a human body, to beautifying a face with microblading and tattooing, to a canvas or wall.
You also teach art — what’s one tip you have for anyone interested in improving their skills as an artist?
Just trust the process and let go of self-judgment. Your canvas is just like your own life. You can paint it the colors you desire; you can create the forms; the values, the darkness or lightness you choose; you can correct the lines you don’t like; you can erase; and repaint—we are the creators of our own story.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Support your artists and your art teachers because art can actually save lives. Art has the power to heal our most hidden traumas. For years I explored the power of self-expression. I studied art therapy coaching and there are ways to make the unconscious conscious. Don’t let creativity and beauty die, don’t let the creators stop creating. What differentiates us from animals is not being able to think (because they think as well) but the power to create.