Step inside the Claassen Gallery, host of Friday’s art exhibit “Pascal’s Peeps,” and it becomes apparent that this is not a typical San Luis Obispo art gallery.
Just below the ceiling hangs canvases capturing two years of street art. Artists have written their names and drawn pictures and graffiti on the canvases so many times that there isn’t an ounce of white showing.
Those canvases serve almost as an explanation for why the Claassen Gallery exists in the first place, to allow for a different type of art culture to emerge. “Pascal’s Peeps” — an exhibit of contemporary and street art — will be showcasing this emerging art culture.
The exhibit features 45 local artists and more than 100 different works that won’t be found in any other art gallery in San Luis Obispo, owner Jeff Claassen said.
Claassen along with Coral Kessler — his best friend who helps run the gallery — follow the “Do It Yourself,” or DIY, ethic. That’s what Friday’s exhibit is all about.
Claassen is more inspired by street art, something much of the art community in San Luis Obispo isn’t ready to embrace, he said.
“People weren’t going to use my art so I did it on my own; it’s a philosophy,” Claassen said. “I’ve taken it a little further. I make my own canvases which saves me money. I think that’s where a lot of the DIY ethic comes from, saving money. People might come in here and think I have investors but I did it on my own starting from a 100-square foot office space.”
One of the artists, who wished to remain anonymous, carried several canvases which — when laid out next to each other — act as one complete piece of graffiti-styled art.
“What I hope is someone sees his work and commissions him to do something,” Claassen said.
That’s part of what “Pascal’s Peeps” can do for the artists involved — get their work out in front of the public so they can make a living off of it, Claassen said.
One of the artists who will be contributing Friday goes by the moniker Stenzskull. The artist, 28, started placing his art in Claassen’s shows about two and a half years ago and it has allowed him to spend more time on his art, he said.
“I’ve been working full-time since I graduated (from) high school and I just dropped my job to do more art,” Stenzskull said.
Claassen quit his day job as an electrician’s assistant to open his first shop on Court Street six years ago before moving to Morro Street. He opened his current location on Marsh Street in July 2009. Since then, he has sold hundreds of his paintings and prints as well as provided a place for local artists and art enthusiasts to meet, purchase and discuss art.
When Claassen isn’t around, Kessler helps run the gallery and meets many of the local artists who come to the gallery to purchase art supplies.
There is an already established style of art in San Luis Obispo, Kessler said. This niche has made it difficult for more contemporary street-inspired artists that will be featured in Friday’s gallery, like Claassen, to be able to make a living.
“If you check out the art in Arts Obispo, that’s the kind of art you’d expect from this area,” Kessler said. “It’s more landscapes and scenery. The city doesn’t embrace the more contemporary type of art yet but we have a huge underground art scene here. SLO doesn’t necessarily want to be known for street art. They have a very specific idea of what SLO art should be.”
For the show, there are no medium restrictions for the artists. However, each piece has to incorporate some sort of animal in it — to tie everything into a single theme.
“The artists have done their art in many ways,” Claassen said. “Stenzskull’s painting of a cat was done entirely with stencils.
The gallery was named after Pascal — the gallery’s mascot bunny. Pascal will make an appearance during the event.
The Claassen Gallery will open its doors from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. for “Pascal’s Peeps” on Friday.