Sedalia acrylic-and-oil painter Shawn Cooper has traveled all over the world in his mind’s eye, and now his work is getting good enough that other people want to visit those places, too. But while they can purchase a painting from Cooper, they can’t travel to any of the landscapes portrayed in them.
“It’s just my imagination, I guess, because I’ve never seen these places,” Cooper said on Friday at his parents’ house in Sedalia, where his work is prominently featured among the decor. “Or if I have seen them, I don’t remember it.”
Cooper, 44, has been drawing since he was 3 and painting for the past seven years. Thanks to word of mouth around town and posting his work at FineArtAmerica.com, he has sold numerous paintings. But Saturday will mark a threshold moment in his career when “The Works of Shawn Cooper” opens at the Arrow Rock Historic Site Visitors Center Small Gallery.
“This is the first show I’ve ever done,” Cooper said. “I’m nervous. I’d like to do more, but I’d just like to see how this one goes first and see the feedback.”
In the Sedalia arts scene, Cooper mostly keeps to himself. The 1986 Smith-Cotton High School graduate is largely self-taught, although he is thankful for guidance from his high school art teacher, Cindy Emery, and the famous PBS television teachings of Bob Ross.
“The only art classes I’ve had were in high school,” Cooper said. “They had a great class my last year; I was the only one in it. It was called Advanced Studies in Art. Most of the time, the teacher just let me turn in something by the end of the week, and I just did what I wanted to. Basically, the style I do is kind of a Bob Ross style — wet on wet. He’s the one I watched to begin with when working with oils.”
Most of Cooper’s paintings are 16-by-20-inch canvases with a base of acrylics and oils on top.
“I do the acrylic, let it dry, then do the oils,” Cooper said. “It gives it a deeper base, I guess.”
He gestured at his 2009 painting of a ship at sea titled “All’s Well.”
“The ship, that’s on a black canvas. I painted it completely black. I guess you can make it look deeper, give it more dimension.”
That ship came from his imagination, as did the subject of “Covered Bridge” (2013), which many people mistake for the covered bridge in Sedalia. The only time he uses photographs are for commissioned work where his client requests a specific mountain or lake.
However, it’s important to Cooper that the paintings look like real places; he’s not aiming for abstract art. He said his biggest improvement in the past seven years is mixing colors accurately.
While the technical skills of painting come from experience, Cooper was born with his imagination. He was also born with a disability; he is missing most of his right (dominant) hand and half of his left. However, because he’s always been that way and has no basis for comparison, he doesn’t see it as something that slows him down.
“When I was born, they were closed, and I had 25 operations to open them up,” said Cooper, who lives with his wife, Carol, and has three children and four grandchildren. “I’ve drawn since I was 3 or 4, old enough to hold a pencil, and just learned different ways to do it, holding a brush or pencil. It works. I didn’t lose them, so I never knew anything different.”
The only thing slowing him down now is arthritis. But he still cranks out paintings at a fast rate; each piece takes him three to 10 days.
Cooper doesn’t come from an artistic family, but his parents, Allan and Nicky, never treated him differently because of his hands.
“I was never treated different than any other kid,” Cooper said. “Some people would try to talk me out of doing this or that in grade school, but my parents always told me if I want to do something, do it. And that’s what I’ve always done.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Works of Shawn Cooper”
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Aug. 14; reception 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Arrow Rock State Historic Site Visitor Center Small Gallery