SLOPOKE Art Show aims to capture spirit of the West
Tucked away off of California State Route 246 at Flag Is Up Farms in Solvang, artists and art connoisseurs gather at the end of every September for the SLOPOKE Art of the West Show.
Tom Burgher and his wife, Sherie, started the show in Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County in 2011 —hence the “SLO” in SLOPOKE — and are now gearing up for the13th rendition of the event. There will be 28 artists showcasing their work from Sept. 22-24 and Burgher expects between 150-175 people to attend the event.
The featured artists are handpicked by Burgher, who is a lifelong photographer, art lover and has works ranging across different art styles.
But they all contain what he believes is the spirit of the West, and that does not mean paintings of cowboys riding horses across rugged terrain.
“What I try to get artists to do and I try to find artists who do it, is those who paint the culture and the spirit of the West,” Burgher said.
Burgher believes the spirit of the West is looking at the world and saying “I can do that.”
In the grand scheme of art shows, Burgher’s artist fees are significantly lower.
A wall at the SLOPOKE costs $450 whereas the cheapest option for a booth at the nearby LA Art Show costs over $13,000.
The SLOPOKE is a smaller event than the LA Art Show, but that is right where Burgher wants to be.
“As an art show we’re kind of like a Triple-A baseball team in its relationship to the major leagues,” Burgher said.
Burgher, who is a retired former Raytheon employee, says he wants the art show to be a place where artists, both young and old, can get exposure and hopefully catapult their careers. SLOPOKE takes a 35% commission on sold art, which is less than the typical 50% art galleries ask for.
“They work really hard and they don’t get paid much,” Burgher said. “The starving artist is indeed a real person.”
The SLOPOKE turns a small profit, Burgher said, but that gets invested right back into the event for next year.
In a given year, between 38-44% of artists will sell something, according to Burgher. The percentage of artists who sell their work is his preferred metric for measuring the success of the show. The low entry fees for artists also allow for them to break even (after paying for hotels and daily living costs) by just selling one piece oftentimes, Burgher said.
Paintings go from anywhere between $1,000-$9,000, though the typical rate for sold paintings at the SLOPOKE is between $2,500-$3,000. Sculptures are more expensive, and the most expensive one ever sold at the event was $9,500.
The SLOPOKE Art of the West Show does not do an auction. Artists list their prices near their work and interested buyers can haggle with the individual artist if the artist is willing to negotiate. Once the two parties agree on a price, then the purchaser can buy the piece and walk out with it or have it shipped.
Burgher typically has somewhere around 30 artists at the SLOPOKE because he does not want any artists’ work to be swallowed up. Throughout the year, he sends out invitations to a few hundred artists. If they respond yes, then Burgher whittles down his list to the 30 or so artists that he would like to have at that year’s event.
Burgher has always had an affection for the West, dating back to the photo he says his mother took of him wearing a cowboy hat and boots with his six-shooter cap guns when he was four years old.That transitioned to art in 2010 when he attended an event at the Autry Museum of the American West and was taken aback by the impressiveness of the art.
“My socks were blown off by what I saw,” Burgher said.
Burgher likes the individualism and entrepreneurial spirit of the West. And now, he is in a way getting to live out his own western dream of being his own boss and building his own art show.
Tickets for the event can be bought for $25 online.