Windows illuminate paintings and photos with afternoon sunlight. Duke Ellington plays softly from a loudspeaker at reception, as the cool autumn breeze gives way to the warmth of SLO Gallery.
This atmosphere lends to the experience that retired architect and gallerist Roger Cantrell wants visitors to have.
“It’s all about the little things,” he said as he put up cutouts that spell out artist Bobbye Thompson’s name. Hand painted by Cantrell, the 3D white letters contrast with the bronze frames around the Thompson pastels.
SLO Gallery features a collection of art from across California with a particular focus on Central Coast paintings and photography. Cantrell frequently updates the space with new artwork to provide viewers with a dynamic experience throughout the year.
Cantrell got his start in the gallery world when he co-founded the fine art-focused Virga Gallery in Laguna Beach. Interested in Cambria’s art scene, he moved north and founded the Cambria Gallery of Art showcasing art from the area known for its artist enclaves.
When gallery space became available in the heart of San Luis Obispo in April 2021, he moved Cambria Gallery south and renamed it SLO Gallery.
“There’s a lot here that comes from places that aren’t traditionally known for their art, like Nipomo and Los Osos,” Cantrell said. “And that’s part of what contributes to the variety of the gallery.”
He designed the interior of the gallery, using his skills as an architect and taking advantage of the pandemic quarantine period to refine the layout of the gallery.
“There was a natural process, some people might even find it ineffective,” he said with a laugh. “[I] I would often set up a display, take it down, and rehearse until I felt it fit the best with the rest of the room.”
Cantrell hopes the layout will inspire patrons to experience art throughout the gallery the same way he built it.
“I want the experience of walking through the gallery to be similar to my experience of discovering the artists we exhibit here,” he said. “I don’t have a program to look for it, it just comes to me.”
Rosemary Bauer is one such artist. She and her husband, Mike, paint plein air style landscape paintings, which are among the many styles on display in the main gallery.
“I appreciate the diversity of artists and styles represented,” Rosemary said. “I love other art styles and I’m proud to be with the artists at SLO Gallery.”
The couple is one of multiple husband and wife duos contributing to the gallery’s art.
The watercolors of the Bauers rub shoulders with the Japanese brushes of Owen Hunt and his wife. The couple spent time in Japan studying traditional art before returning to the Central Coast. Hunt said it was great to be able to bring his traditional art to a gallery where he could exhibit alongside his wife, Kyoko.
“We get to have our art together, and in a way it really shows how the Japanese influence affects both of our works,” Owen said.
Cantrell also brings his own unique vision to the gallery with photos of car dashboards.
“I’m a huge car lover, but one thing I never focus on is the interiors of these classic cars,” he said. “There are so many subtle details, especially after going through them and editing them with the little things in mind, that you never see them.”
The art he creates allows him to understand the work that artists put into their works exhibited in the gallery. He said he was happy that the gallery could be an accessible space for them.
“It’s just about the fun of giving deserving artists a showcase,” Cantrell said. “I have a certain empathy for them because they are given this talent and they see [it] through.”
Events like Art After Dark and artist demos help bring people into the gallery, and Cantrell said he hopes to host more demos in the future. He said bringing more people into the gallery also means an opportunity for SLO Gallery to showcase even more artists.
Ultimately, Cantrell hopes gallery patrons leave with an appreciation for the art the county has to offer. By doing his part to focus on the finer details, he hopes to create an impact that will last long into the future.
“[The finer details] should influence sentiment but not distract from art, that’s the point,” he said, adding that in some ways the gallery’s impact goes beyond what he was contemplating. “If it’s here, then I’ve done a good job. Δ
Freelancer Adrian Vincent Rosas loves the little details. Contact him through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.