Gary Ray Chafe, 1937-2017, artist, rebel, wit and friend, left his earthly body on his 80th birthday, after more than 60 years of making and selling art in his chosen residence,
the paradise called Santa Barbara.
If one lived in this area for a while, chances are you knew Gary or knew someone who did. To walk with Gary in downtown SB meant to run into a friend on every block. From Mountain Drive to State
Street, he knew people from all walks of life. He lived in a series of cheap whimsical studio spaces, back when this was possible in this gorgeous Southern California town.
Born in Pasadena in 1948, he moved to Santa Barbara, graduating from SB High in 1955. In High School he became notorious for cartooning illustrating posters for school
He served in the US Navy from 1955-57, with ports of call in the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong and Korea, becoming deeply influenced by Asian Art. The Admiral, noting his graphic skills, promoted
him to draftsman-illustrator on their map-making mission. While in the Navy he swam in a place where he claimed the ocean was over a mile deep.
Chafe went to SB City College, where he studied art with Charles Atkinson and sculpture with Paul Lindhard. Charming and handsome, he was twice married and always
enjoyed the company of women. His greatest pride and joy were first his daughter Maya, and his granddaughter Alishanee.
In 1964 he opened The First Press at 129 E. Canon Perdido St. where he hand-set type, printed on a vintage press, framed artwork, and showed his work, along with a few
artist friends. A social creature, he loved cultural events and parties. A constant source of civic action and ideas, he was a visionary who loved to get disparate groups of people involved. Over
fifty years ago he started the Yes store, a local artists’ pop-up cooperative that still thrives. He organized a massive bike ride from Chase Palm Park via the mayor's office and
ending at a concert in Alameda Park, intended to call attention to the benefits of cycling. He collaborated with artists, musicians, and dancers on multi-media projects, created posters, murals,
T-shirts, coffee cups, book covers, and greeting cards. In the 70’s he became involved in the SB Frisbee scene, designing Frisbees (winning the 1979 Wham-O Disc Design of the Year) for the Santa
Barbara Condors ultimate team, and playing, somewhat less glamorously, for the Santa Barbara Ducks. He painted sets for the Alhecama Theater, taught printmaking at Adult Education,
served as Art Editor for Connexions (a quarterly art/poetry magazine) for 4 years, helped to build out, promote and open the bakery Our Daily Bread, ran
the Noh Gallery and the Cafe Perdido.
He was an activist who marched against Big Oil and the Vietnam War and created satirical artwork related to all sorts of injustices. A constant questioning of
authority was central to his character. Although protest was a big part of his art, it was by no means his sole focus. His work was figurative rather than abstract, not merely reproducing what he
saw, but more importantly how he saw it or how he felt it. His renderings of the human condition and nature’s beauty continue to be relevant, making emotion
palpable on paper. Gary made art almost every day of his life, moving between mediums easily, creating etchings, oil paintings, stone and bronze sculpture, wooden toys, wax cast jewelry and, most
masterfully and prolifically: monotype prints. After a series of economically rented downtown live-in studios, he finally stayed for over 25 years at 202 W. Canon Perdido in a one-room studio, with
his hand crank press as the centerpiece. His work has been shown in NY, LA, and NM and is represented at SBMA, Phoenix Art Museum, and in many private, corporate and public collections throughout the
Gary was a knowledgeable art historian and dealer, once buying a pot painted and signed by Picasso for $8.00 at a yard sale and once pulled a signed Corita Kent poster out of
a NYC dumpster. He did short stints as mail carrier and cabdriver, but basically supported himself modestly with art for over 60 years, despite having no patience for the political intrigues of
galleries or art world fashion. He kept his own uncompromising set of standards, but by refusing to bow, he never enjoyed representation by a dealer, and was primarily collected by a regional group
Gary’s sphere of artistic influence, his worldview, his generosity and big heart touched many. People often tell how he was their first friend in Santa Barbara, or set
them on their artistic paths, or how he saved them from desperate situations, how he helped them “see color in music”, how he was so compassionate, considerate, and humorous. A deep
sense of our shared tragic/comical humanity is visible in his artwork.