For nearly 40 years, artist’s colors and characters have graced Del Mar

Gary Cantor, a Del Mar resident since 1977, stands with images of his “Cantor’s characters,” which he sells as prints and on T-shirts.

By Claire Harlin

Gary Cantor is a truly a local artist — not by virtue of having lived in Del Mar since 1977, but because that’s where people have been spotting his distinct artistic style for decades. If you’ve been in Del Mar’s Americana Restaurant or Durante’s clothing store, you might have seen his colorful pieces on the walls, or maybe you’ve seen his huge section of his T-shirts and paintings at Leaping Lotus in Solana Beach. He keeps it local, and doesn’t even venture outside North County to market his work, he said.

“I’m local, so local people are like my extended family,” said Cantor. “When I walk into town I know a lot of people and I feel comfortable, and I want to be represented by people I know.”

However, Cantor’s work has also been exhibited in various museums and galleries outside of North County, such as the San Diego Museum of Art, and he has had four one-person shows. His work has also been collected in various private collections, including that of the former director/curator of the Los Angeles County Art Museum.

Cantor once ran an ad agency in Del Mar and later started a school for advertising in Mission Valley, which he sold and is now the Art Institute of California—San Diego. But he said he’s been an artist his entire life, and that’s even what he pursued in college at the University of Southern California in the early 1960s.

“I was never much into academics, but I could draw,” he said. “I did what I was good at and it got me through college.”

When it came time to finding work after college, Cantor realized that art may not be a safe route, so he went to the library and immersed himself in advertising.

“It was the closest thing to wearing a suit and tie that I could do,” he said.

He ran Cantor Advertising for nearly two decades before selling the company to his brother. He then got married and started an advertising school with his now ex-wife, Tracy, and being one of the first of its kind, the school was very successful.

“We were one of the first in the country to use computers for graphics,” said Cantor of the school, then called the La Jolla Academy of Advertising and Arts. Although the word “art” was in the name, the school focused strictly on advertising — every aspect of advertising.

All the while, Cantor was always creating, showing and selling art, and his style has been consistent over the decades. Cantor started with paint and has switched to digital art and apparel in the past five years, however, his pieces have been recognizable by their vivid, intense colors, quirky characters and thick, prominent lines.

“My style stays the same but it’s the implementation that changes,” he said. “It goes from formal and classic to wild, but you can still recognize it as mine.”

He said he hasn’t purposely tried to keep his style consistent so his works will be cohesive and easily recognized — it’s just natural.

“It’s just me,” he said. “I can’t help it.”

Cantor said he has a number of loyal collectors and much of the reason people are familiar with his work is because he’s been showing it for so long. He’s also taught more than 1,000 graduates at his school and he bumps into them everywhere, he said.

“They know me and they know my art and some of them have even become artists too,” he said.

Cantor’s said his biggest inspirations are Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and it shows through the lively, cartoon-like nature of his pieces. He also loves the pop-art style of Andy Warhol, and shares the art legend’s appreciation for use of graphics in art.

Cantor said he dedicates time every day to art, and every piece has a message behind it.

“Ideas just come to me and I have to create them,” he said, adding that the concepts behind his work usually relate to the individual versus society.

“Society accepts what’s legitimate. Society says, ‘We will accept this,’ and the individual may say, ‘Well, I want to do this,’ but what’s the impact of that?” said Cantor. “There’s this whole communication process that comes out in each piece.”

For more information or to view Cantor’s art, visit