GALLERY OF LOCAL EXCELLENCE
When husband and wife Richard and Julie Schloss decided to open their own art gallery in downtown Santa Barbara’s Arlington Plaza, they knew from decades of displaying Richard’s immensely popular landscape paintings in other galleries how they wanted to be different.
“We’ve learned some lessons with him being represented by other galleries. Some were not good ones. They didn’t pay him for maybe a year. They didn’t treat him with the respect I feel like every artist should be treated with if you’re representing one,” said Santa Barbara Fine Art Gallery owner and director Julie Schloss.
After returning to Santa Barbara from a nine-year stint in Northern California, Mr. Schloss learned their much-loved Easton Gallery, which had displayed his art for over 20 years, had closed. Unable to find the right fit in other galleries in the area, the two decided to open their own, stripped of pretention and overpriced art and dedicated to bringing affordable art to the public, all while treating their artists the way the Schlosses believe every artist deserves.
Unlike many others, the Santa Barbara Fine Art Gallery allows their artists to be represented by other Californian galleries close to Santa Barbara and tries hard to foster a casual community that shuns the uppity attitude of galleries in L.A. or New York.
One thing they’ve learned is to pay artists as soon as the money comes in. Many galleries will hold payments for months, but the Schlosses care more about supporting the artists than paying the rent.
“The minute the payment goes through I’m more excited to tell the artist than I am about the sale,” said Mrs. Schloss.
Now, a year and two months after Santa Barbara Fine Art Gallery opened its doors, it has become one of the premier showcases for local landscape painters Santa Barbara has to offer.
The gallery is anchored by Mr. Schloss’ iconic paintings, which also hang in hospitals, museums and galleries all over California, including the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
“I would have never opened a gallery unless we had Richard Schloss,” Mrs. Schloss said.
He is the only living artist in Santa Barbara whose paintings are featured in four museums, she said.
Mr. Schloss grew up visiting his grandparents in Hope Ranch from the Bay Area, and came to UCSB planning to study physics. But after one fine arts class in 1972, he was hooked and hasn’t stopped painting Santa Barbara’s mountains, beaches and iconic buildings since. He has produced more than 2,048 paintings and shows no signs of slowing down.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the character of the light here in Santa Barbara,” said Mr. Schloss. “It is kind of a special place. Not unique, but almost, because the coast runs east-west, the hills are close to the ocean, the sun sets over the ocean. There’s mist coming up from the ocean, and all these factors affect the light and the way it works here. So there is a kind of look to Santa Barbara. It’s sort of like the south of France or a few other places that are similar. I started painting I think partly because that’s the look here in Santa Barbara. Who knows? In another place, maybe I wouldn’t have started painting!”
Alongside Mr. Schloss’ paintings you can find paintings from the Oak Group, a close-knit club of Santa Barbara artists started by Mr. Schloss and friends in 1986. The Schlosses are open to new artists and sometimes will be approached about featuring someone unfamiliar, but they mostly work with longtime friends and acquaintances. Hanging on the walls are works by locals Marsha Macdonald, Arturo Tello, John Wallbrandt, Larry Iwerks and other masterful artists from the group.
“You know when you say ‘let’s start a band’ and tell all your friends? Well he’s been painting with some of these artists for over three decades,” said Mrs. Schloss.
Spearheaded by local artists Arturo Tello and the late Ray Strong, the Oak Group is an invitation-only cohort of 25 Santa Barbara landscape painters who, in addition to supporting each other, raise funds for non-profit conservation organizations. It is one of, if not the first groups to use art to bring attention to preserving open spaces, generating a sort of movement in the art world.
“This was before there were any artists in town. It was just this group of painters. There was no ego or anything. They just wanted to preserve the land,” said Mrs. Schloss.
Members have come and gone, and now the ages of the artists range from late 30s to late 60s. They do two or three exhibitions a year and have raised money for groups such as the Land Trust for Santa Barbara and the Nature Conservancy.
The group has become known as a collection of Santa Barbara’s best artists, and Santa Barbara Fine Art Gallery prides itself on featuring their work.
“When one person was here she walked in and said ‘Wow, you have everybody!'” said Mrs. Schloss.
The Gallery caters mostly local middle and upper middle class clientele, with prices ranging from about $800 to $17,000. Mrs. Schloss doesn’t think original Schloss paintings are being sold for as much as their worth, but that’s what Mr. Schloss likes. He wants everyone to have good art, and will work with customers on payment plans or anything that will get the pieces into their hands. The Schlosses want to foster the idea that everyone should and can have art.
“There is a thing about money and art that is people associate an expensive painting with a good painting. So, it’s important art because it’s a million dollars. But we are in a place where we want people to own art because we think it contributes to people to have real paintings in their house,” said Mr. Schloss.
“It’s very healing too,” said Mrs. Schloss.
The Gallery has become a lynchpin for the Arlington Plaza’s first Thursday events. It has swung open its giant doors for several popular events that have drawn hundreds to the Plaza, including live paintings of the Arlington Theater and wine tastings.
Currently, locals can stop by the Gallery to see a preview of the Santa Barbara Studio Artists Open Studios Tour, which will take place Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. Local artists will be on display until the Aug. 30 kick off event at the Gallery. The Open Studios Tour is an event featuring the art of more than 45 studio artists, along with exclusive access to their studios.
After that, the Schlosses will welcome Santa Barbara to visit their next exhibit, From the Mountains to the Sea, which will open on Sept. 5 and feature coastal and inland wines from Santa Barbara Winery.
But don’t wait for a special occasion. Stroll through the Santa Barbara Fine Art Gallery and take in the beauty of the city captured on canvas. If you’re lucky, the artist himself may pop out from his studio in the back for a chat.