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Peep show

Go see Pascal's Peeps, Jeff Claassen's collaborative animal show, right now!

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FLUFFY TRIO :  Pascal’s Peeps was inspired by Pascal (left), but organized by Coral Kessler (center) and Jeff Claassen (right). - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FLUFFY TRIO : Pascal’s Peeps was inspired by Pascal (left), but organized by Coral Kessler (center) and Jeff Claassen (right).
There’s something hairy and delightful going down at the Claassen Gallery, home to friendly street artist Jeff Claassen and his disgustingly cute rabbit muse, Pascal. For a limited time, 45 artists are exhibiting their most animalian creations, some adorable, some—like Jamie Bruzenak’s I’m more afraid of you—the stuff of nightmares. Pirate monkeys grin and purring housecats brandish shotguns as taxidermied human heads stare dully into space. With media ranging from spray-paint on canvas to pigskin stretched over skateboard, and artists ranging in age from 8 to 60, the “Pascal’s Peeps” animal show is a must-see.

New Times sat down with gallery owner Claassen; his girlfriend and alleged Peeps mastermind Coral Kessler; pinup artist Sean B, aka SABO ART, creator of the slinky piece Heartbreaker Cassandra; and Neal Breton of San Luis Art Supply, whose contributions to the show include the heartbreaking emo diorama Nobody Cares. We ended up just talking about crazy customers, Breton’s feelings, and Claassen’s aversion to pets.

NEW TIMES How did you come up with the animal theme?

CORAL KESSLER It was inspired by our bunny, and also the fact that animal art consistently sells well in here.

JEFF CLAASSEN Not that the show was done just for that reason. Normally I’d sell my own artwork, and the pieces that sell the most [are] something with an animal on it. And animals are cute! And people love them. And a lot of artists that we invited already do animals—like I don’t think Neal did anything specific, he already had that. Sean already had his.

SEAN B Lucky you.

CLAASSEN So there’s this collective group of people already doing animals. And we were just looking for a fun event to do it. Coral’s been talking about an animal show for a couple of years. So, with the artist’s mentality, we took two years to actually follow through.

NT Who do you think are the key artists to this show?

KESSLER Everyone. It was really hard to hang this show because there were so many different styles. When you walk in … it’s basically a collage on the wall. But the cohesive theme helps. But really, I don’t know. They all stand out.

RAISING QUESTIONS :  Pascal runs with a diverse crowd, including Peg Grady’s installation piece. - IMAGE BY PEG GRADY
  • IMAGE BY PEG GRADY
  • RAISING QUESTIONS : Pascal runs with a diverse crowd, including Peg Grady’s installation piece.
NT Artists can be kind of hard to get together, kind of like herding cats. Did you have any difficulty?

KESSLER Absolutely. We had a lot of difficulty, but we anticipated it, and planned far enough in advance to coordinate 45 people.

NEAL BRETON Then you had someone like Jason Hudson who was literally painting as it was being hung on the wall.

KESSLER We had artists dropping their stuff off the night before, and like, lacquering, doing final coats on things. A lot of things didn’t have wire and had no hanging device, and again that was anticipated.

NT So, the different artists whose work is exhibited in this show took the theme in a lot of different directions. Some peeps were gruesome and frightening. Some were cuddly and soft. Some were extinct. What do you think was the most surprising deviation?

BRETON I think that there’s a lot of really cool stuff in here. A lot of really well thought out stuff. The only deviations I could possibly dislike is where it’s kind of a stretch to see the animal. Like they put it in last.

B [Points to large graffiti piece near the door, titled There’s a bluebird on my shoulder.] Even though I love the graffiti, it looks like he just put a sticker on there with a bird.

CLAASSEN He actually made that specific for the show.

NT Really?

CLAASSEN Yeah.

NT Sorry.

CLAASSEN No, I’m not offended or anything. It’s just, it was actually hard to get him to do something.

B Who is that?

CLAASSEN It says GWAP. He said, well, I don’t really work with characters. And I said, come up with something, please. It would be awesome to have your stuff in here. So he did that. And then the other day I was looking at it and I thought, it’s kind of cool, as if you saw a graffiti piece out on the wall, with a bird sitting on top.

HORSING AROUND :  This is a tribute to humanity’s equine friends. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • HORSING AROUND : This is a tribute to humanity’s equine friends.
BRETON There are some really cool creature variations that obviously aren’t humans.

B I like the monkey. It looks like something you’d see in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

NT So, your reception was obviously a smash. The place was packed. Did it inspire you to put on another one?

CLAASSEN Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know if it would be as popular if it was done all the time, because when I did the grand opening party in here, it was crowded for most of the night. I don’t think people would come if you did it every month. It’s almost like a special, “Oh, he’s finally doing another show.” You can’t miss that.

B Maybe if you did it once a year. Then people are almost expecting it, like, “It’s time! It’s coming up!”

BRETON I think in general if you have enough interest to have people waiting outside in this town, and to be waiting for an art show? Not like your favorite band playing, or something like that, breezing through town, that’s significant. Because if you go to these other so-called galleries, they don’t have people waiting outside the door in a line to get in.

CLAASSEN In the rain.

BRETON Exactly.

NT That’s true, it was drizzling.

NT OK, this is a funky question. Did putting this show together make you think about man’s relationship with the animal kingdom?

BRETON A lot of times I use animals as a front to how I’m feeling. Like in that “Nobody Cares” piece. I can’t remember what I was bummed out about, but I was sad about something, and I kind of drew that, and I felt like at that point in time, l couldn’t really identify with anybody, I couldn’t really tell anybody. It was kind of like a cutesy way. So it was easy to use animals because I use them all the time.

NT People sympathize with animals more than humans.

- NATURE OR NURTURE?:  “Pascal’s Peeps” hangs at the Claassen Gallery through Nov. 12. Located at 785 Marsh St. in downtown San Luis Obispo, the gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Call 541-3932 or visit claassengallery.com for more information. -
  • NATURE OR NURTURE?: “Pascal’s Peeps” hangs at the Claassen Gallery through Nov. 12. Located at 785 Marsh St. in downtown San Luis Obispo, the gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Call 541-3932 or visit claassengallery.com for more information.
BRETON Right, that’s another thing too. People love animals. I mean, you can hear about dead people and you’re just like, “Well, that happens.” And you see a dog or a cat get run over, and you’re totally bummed, maybe for the rest of the day. At least people who are animal people. And people who aren’t animal people are weird.

KESSLER [points at Jeff] He’s not an animal person.

NT You’re not an animal person?

CLAASSEN Not that much.

KESSLER But he’s become obsessed with our bunny.

CLAASSEN Well, as far as I don’t like pets. But it’s the responsibility; it’s not because they’re not cute. I don’t want to take care of anything.

B What’s that saying about you as a person? Let’s get really deep into this. What kind of childhood did you have?

CLAASSEN A great one.

B Maybe that’s why. 

Arts Editor Anna Weltner is an animal, as are you. Send musings on that to aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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