Windows illuminate paintings and photos with afternoon sunlight. Duke Ellington plays Softly from a speaker at the front desk, while the cool fall breeze gives way to SLO Gallery’s warmth.
This atmosphere lends itself to the experience retired architect and gallery owner Roger Cantrell wants visitors to have.
“It’s all about the small things,” they said while putting up cutouts that spell artist Bobbye Thompson’s name. Hand-painted by Cantrell, the 3D white letters stand in contrast to the Bronze frames around Thompson’s pastels.
SLO Gallery showcases a collection of art from across California with a specific focus on Central Coast paintings and photography. Cantrell updates the space frequently with new art to give viewers 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. Finding interest in the art scene in Cambria, he moved north and founded the Cambria Gallery of Art showcasing art from the area known for its artist enclaves.
When a gallery space became available in the heart of San Luis Obispo in April 2021, they moved the Cambria gallery south and renamed it SLO Gallery.
“There is a lot here that comes from places not 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 from his time as an architect and taking advantage of the Pandemic Quarantine period to fine tune the gallery’s layout.
“There was a natural process to it, some people might even find it inefficient,” he said with a laugh. “[I] would often put a display up, take it down, and repeat until I felt it fit best with the rest of the room.”
Cantrell hopes that the layout inspires patrons to experience the art throughout the gallery in the same way he built it.
“I want the experience of walking through the gallery to be similar to my experience in discovering the artists we display here,” he said. “I don’t have a program to seek it out, 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 Styles of art and am proud to be with the artists at SLO Gallery.”
The couple is one of multiple husband-and-wife duos who contribute art to the gallery.
The Bauers’ watercolors Hang alongside Owen Hunt’s and his wife’s Japanese brush work. The couple spent time in Japan studying traditional art before returning to the Central Coast. Hunt said it’s great to be able to contribute their traditional art to a gallery where he can show side by side with his wife, Kyoko.
“We get to have our art together, and in a way it really shows off how the Japanese influence affects both of our work,” Owen said.
Cantrell also contributes his own unique vision to the gallery with photos of car dashboards.
“I’m a big car guy, but one thing I never see focused on is the interior of these classic cars,” he said. “There is so much subtle detail—especially after going through and editing them with the little things in mind—that never gets seen.”
The art he creates helps give him a sense of understanding about the work that artists put into their pieces that are displayed in the gallery. He said he’s happy the gallery can be an accessible space for them.
“It’s all about just the pleasure of giving a showcase to deserving artists,” Cantrell said. “I have some empathy for them because they are given this talent and they are seeing [it] through.”
Events like Art After Dark and artist demonstrations help bring people into the gallery, and Cantrell said he hopes to host more Demos in the future. They said that bringing more people into the gallery also means an opportunity for SLO Gallery to showcase even more artists.
In the end, Cantrell hopes patrons of the gallery will 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 the feeling but not distract from the art, that’s the goal,” he said, adding that in some ways the impact of the gallery goes beyond what he envisioned. “If that’s here, then I’ve done a good job.” Δ
Freelancer Adrian Vincent Rosas finds Joy in the small details. Reach him through the editor at [email protected]