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I like Sheldon Draper's work—I like his mind even better

Sheldon Draper. "Soundcheck" 2023. Oil on canvas.
Curt Clonts
Sheldon Draper. "Soundcheck" 2023. Oil on canvas.

Young Wichita painter Sheldon Draper is causing a buzz. After several shows, one currently on view at Mulberry Gallery, and the sale of a very large painting to Woolsey Hall at Wichita State University, Draper and his work have become a real topic of conversation. The self-taught painter likes jazz music, painting, and basketball. Jazz musicians playing instruments are often seen in his work.

When I look at his paintings I feel he’s in the laboratory, working things out in “riffs”—impromptu, with spirit in the wind. Nothing seems a mistake. And I mean this in the best way possible. An expanded mind that knows beauty in chaos, scribbles, and smudges made by his human hands. There is so much visual cacophony in his work I feel he may be a victim of the mile per nano-second imagery of social media. Splice that with the improvisational jams of mid- century jazz and you begin to understand the substantial visual blizzards that make up the backgrounds in his paintings. His human subjects are black, and strong—formed with spare lines and dashes of paint.

Detroit 1968, Times Square, New Orleans, 12th street and Vine—all in one painting.

And it seemed right that when I spoke to Draper at his recent opening he seemed shy, reserved, and almost uneasy. I immediately knew this cat wants his painting to do his talking. As I moved on and looked at more work I found several that were simple paintings of a lollipops with cigarettes in still life. Almost like a reward to himself for his previous struggles.

I like his work. And I like his mind even better.

Curt Clonts is a Wichita-born artist who volunteers as KMUW's art reviewer. When Curt isn’t working in his College Hill studio he is usually spending time with his wife, kids, and grandkids. He also spends the spring and summer months kayaking and camping.