WHO: Jeff Claassen
WHAT: “drawing and painting and making stuff”
WHEN: Doin’ the gallery thing since 04’ Hours T-Sa: 12pm-6pm Su/M: Closed
WHERE: 785 Marsh Street
Photo: Dylan Gordon
Do it yourself.
It’s an approach that may seem obvious when it comes to art, but the simple phrase is a meaningful one for Jeff Claassen.
If you take a look through his “stuff” you’ll understand how those three words have influenced the unique, self-sufficient style and impromptu creative process behind his whimsical world of bright paint, bold lines and sleepy eyes.
A work in progress. "Still a ways to go, but I'm getting close." (Photo: Jeff Claassen)
Claassen’s a Central Coast native. He flew South to get a taste of Los Angeles living, but returned after almost a half-decade when the opportunity arose to be close to his family members who were slowly reuniting in San Luis.
He came back with the desire to establish a gallery space of his own, and in 2004 he opened his first location in downtown SLO. The store has since been relocated to a new spot on Marsh Street – the brightly colored window display pops from the drab brick building.
At the store you'll find originals, prints, t-shirts, hats, wallets, pins, & other goodies. (Photo: Jeff Claassen)
Here Claassen spends his week days making stuff, selling it, photographing artwork, talking with customers, and blogging (one of his favorite hobbies). He said, “Sometimes I fascinate about doing it full time.”
The tech-savvy artist grew up drawing, and without any formal training he has become one of the biggest names on the San Luis Obispo scene. “Spontaneous” best describes his freestyle method. He explained that he never sketches pieces before-hand, an approach that allows the element of chance to take its course in the creative process. Claassen said,
“Making it up as you go forces you to turn your mistakes into something else. You have to make them work.”
"Call Me Dumpling." Handpainted mixed media on wood (the page is from a 1964 cookbook). Photo: Jeff Claassen
His father is the inspiration behind the D.I.Y. attitude. The “super handy man” has always completed his own projects, from oil changes to furniture assembly, and it rubbed off on his son. In the same manner, Claassen stretches his own canvas and makes things like pins and magnets in the shop.
Local designer and founder of Scissor Clothing, Kate White, calls him the “mayor of underground art” – someone who’s great for advice and ideas. A simple black and white Claassen original hangs in the “sweatshop” where she sews all of her pieces. She said jokingly,
“When I grow up I want to be Jeff Claassen.”
Doors are always open during shop hours and visitors are welcome to come in for a chat or say hello to Claassen’s bunny friend, Pascal, who recently hosted an in-store show featuring 45 other local artists.
Claassen recently hosted a 3 week long show featuring 45 artists.
Claassen pieces are a hot commodity in SLO and can be found on the walls of downtown establishments such as Chino’s Rock & Tacos and Kreuzberg Book Bar & Coffee Lounge.
Dylan Gordon is a photographer and student at Brook’s Institute in Ventura, and he recently spent some time shooting in Claassen’s store. He produced a photo story and short documentary and has allowed me to include some of the shots in this post. Gordan said of the artist,
“Jeff is the kind of guy who will go out of his way to help a simple stranger, which is how I came to know him.”
A shot from Gordon's photo story taken in Claassen's shop (Photo: Dylan Gordon)
Another Central Coast photographer, Henry Bruington, has known and admired Claassen since he “stumbed upon his art gallery” in the 7th grade. He’s bought so much “stuff” that he’s lost count of the pieces, calling Claassen the “Godfather” of the San Luis art scene.
The originals sell for about $250-$350, and the pricing is based on size. Luckily for most of us, especially students, Claassen makes limited edition prints on pine. You can view or purchase the available art and other awesome stuff in the store or at his on-line store hosted by Etsy.
"color cubes" - a part of his in-store spray paint display (Photo: Jeff Claassen)