Gary Chafe was born in 1937 and has been an artist all his life. Even his brief stint in the Navy in the late 1950’s had him doing map and chart making offshore of Japan and Hong Kong as a draftsman /illustrator. He worked and lived for most of his life in Santa Barbara and now is in a care facility near the foot of San Marcos Pass. He has a wasting disease called Lewy Body Dementia that has made it impossible for him to live on his own. This is why he is not creating still, his hands are sadly, not able to create as they have for so long. He still receives visitors there, and is very popular with the staff and residents.
In an era where artists continually reinvented themselves, he did not. He sculpted, painted, etched, printed, and framed his own work. He was single minded, and worked constantly, yet he never stayed in one rut or sought production. Sure he made toys for kids for his art shows, but they weren’t the same twice. And once upon a time he even had a printing press on E. Canon Perdido Street, The First Press, in the early 1960’s, where he set his own type and also showed his and his friend’s artwork.
He studied at City College with Charles Atkins and taught at Adult Education. He was also awarded a William T. Colville Grant in the year 2000.
In the artist’s own words: “I want to deal with the human condition. I’m not a technician, my approach isn’t technical. I use a humane approach. Abstraction bores me. It’s good as a lesson, but too vague for my tastes.” His artwork is centered around the human environment and body form. It tells of a situation: a particular place in time that one person is experiencing. This gives his work a visceral and tangible element of humanity.
He came up with the brilliant idea of the Yes Store, which is, as far as I know, the very first “pop-up store” which still thrives around Christmas n the business model he and a few others came up with. Yes he did his own carpentry, mechanical and electrical work. He was a renaissance man, but not a dabbler. In addition to the fine art he made, he also
designed frisbees, created jewelry, carved stone, cast in bronze, made masks, designed T-shirts, and organized a mass bike ride going from the Bird Refuge to Alameda Park via the Mayor’s office.
And you might say anyone who made a living in Santa Barbara, for nearly sixty years as an artist must have had something going. He did. He had the eye and the heart for creating.
He often sat in a downtown bar and sketched until a friend would come by, and I sat with him many times, saw those friends come and go as if Gary were there to hold court. His friends nicknamed him “The Mayor of Santa Barbara”. You couldn’t walk down the street with him in town without meeting and greeting people along the way. Life, for Gary Chafe, is a long meet and greet, and that is what he has left.
Those of us who grew up around Gary saw that he modeled the habits it took to practice art. He created art daily, both in his studio and on the beach, or wherever he found himself.
He often said that an artist had to be “fifty per cent craftsman, fifty per cent artist” or their work would never see the light of day. His work, gracing the walls of many homes in the area and throughout the world, shows this beautiful mix of art and craft.