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Cambria's Cruise Control Gallery aims to be the last art stop on the way to Big Sur



Located halfway between Big Sur and San Luis Obispo, the small town of Cambria can be a perfect pit stop for travelers, with beautiful ocean and mountain views, a quaint downtown, and local restaurants. The only thing missing was a curated, all-encompassing art gallery.

This is exactly what Charles Smith thought when he opened Cruise Control Gallery in 2021.

While wonderful artists come from far and wide, Smith focuses primarily on California artists who are looking to break into the art world.

"There's no medium that I would limit myself from showing, as every artist has their own language," he said. "I get to show wood ceramics, photography, acrylic oil on canvas, sculpture; we've had performance poetry, music—there's no limit."

However, due to the landslides that closed parts of Highway 1 to potential Big Sur travelers coming from the south, those dreams soon began to crumble beneath him.

"Probably 80, maybe 90 percent drop-off especially in foreign travelers such as English and Germans," he told New Times. "People with budgets in their world traveling that want to take a piece of contemporary California, authentic art are gone. Those people are gone, and unfortunately their trips aren't going to just open up."

Before Smith came to the Central Coast, he'd spent eight years in New York. When he decided it was time to move back home to California, instead of settling in Los Angeles again, he landed in Cambria with his wife and daughter. There, he decided to focus on giving young artists an opportunity to profit from their work.

"I want to inspire people to be creative through hosting these art shows because if there's no cost benefit or way forward to some younger creatives, they might lean into careers or a different job," he said. "This will take away from letting the creative spirit flow through them and do what they do."

Smith set up his gallery to achieve a specific goal: ensuring that gallery visitors give their full attention to the artwork within.

Walking into the gallery is almost like a refresh for the mind. With white walls, wooden beams, and artistic designs on the ceiling, the gallery is minimalistic, allowing guests to focus on the current show.

"This is what the space is for. I'm just trying to keep it fresh, keep it interesting," he said. "The average show is about four to six weeks, usually, and if I have a bigger show I will stretch it to two months."

Smith said the turnover rate for shows depends on how the public is interacting with the pieces. A show that's doing well can stay up for around two months at Cruise Control Gallery, but if potential buyers are slow, it can stay for as little as four weeks.

"Rarely do I shuffle things around; I just set up the show and let it run for six weeks, and then do another one, and that's what keeps me so excited to see what's going to be next, because it's always different," he said.

Starting on May 11, Cruise Control Gallery will begin showing the work of Kevin Cincotta, who does flat acrylic panels focusing on aspects of the desert.

The Denver-based painter and musician has a background in jazz and classical music studies, and his approach to art draws from simple geometric shapes and overlapping perspectives.

Cincotta focuses on cubism, '50s minimalism, and '60s pop art while diving into a bold color palette to distill complex human emotions into a single scene, according to his artist statement.

Pioneered in part by Pablo Picasso, cubism uses geometric shapes to emphasize the flat, 2-dimensional surface of the picture plane, rejecting more traditional techniques that aim for art to imitate nature, according to The Met.

One of the paintings on display will showcase the beauty hidden within the California desert. A bold, bright sun blazes over the ancient rock formations, which hold stems of white flowers with yellow centers, big leaves that soak up the sun, and long stems that dig deep into the cool depths of the earth.

"After this [show], I will have a dream-like magical realist child-like dream scenario," Smith said. "Then some nature and a ceramic show."

While Cruise Control Gallery's website states that hours are by appointment only, Smith always welcomes community members into his gallery. Offering those who come in refreshments while he strikes up a conversation should make visitors feel at home in the gallery as they take in the current show.

"I get to offer people my time and attention so they can look at the art on the walls," he said. "I love to host and provide for anyone who comes in." Δ

Staff Writer Samantha Herrera is painting up dream-like articles. Reach her at [email protected].


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