Channing at the Peake, and the Casa
Late artist-rancher Channing Peake shows up in his namesake gallery in a dual-focused show, also celebrating the historic Casa del Herrero, where a young Peake apprenticed.
“Channing Peake at Casa del Herrero and Highlights from the Santa Barbara County Collection”
When: through fall 2019
Where: Channing Peake Gallery, County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St.
Gallery hours: Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Information: 568-3990, http://www.sbac.ca.gov/current-exhibitions
Channing Peake, the famed late Santa Barbara-based artist, rancher, muralist and general art scene mover-shaker, is embedded in the community’s sense of artistic self. The artist, who died in 1989, is more or less immortalized in murals around town—the collaborative “Don Quixote” mural made with Howard Warshaw, at the Central Library, and “Fiesta” at the new Santa Barbara Airport.
Mr. Peake’s work shows up in various contexts around the gallery scene, as with a 2014 show at UCSB’s AD&A Museum, celebrating his comradeship with Pablo Picasso, who admired the local “cowboy Cubist” and visited his Santa Ynez Valley ranch.
At the moment, another historical side note in Peake’s life is granted public wall space, in his namesake gallery at the County Government Building. The entangled mouthful of an exhibition title “Channing Peake at Casa del Herrero and Highlights from the Santa Barbara County Collection” actually serves truth in advertising, in a blending of Casa-related materials and a handful of Peake works housed in the County Art Collection. As a bonus raison d’etre, the show also celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Channing Peake Gallery itself.
In short, it is a friendly hodge-podge of an exhibition which nonetheless can be fascinating for admirers of Peake’s art, for the historic 1928-vintage Montecito Casa del Herrero estate, and for those of us newly discovering the twain between those two pillars of local history.
Some juxtaposed history lessons are in order. Mr. Peake arrived in Santa Barbara in 1931 to study at the Santa Barbara School of the Arts, and, in 1933 and ’34, apprenticed at the Casa, an elegant 11-acre Montecito estate. Commissioned by St. Louis-born industrialist George Fox Steedman and designed by architect George Washington Smith, it is considered a classic example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style now prevalent in much of Santa Barbara and enjoys status as a National Historic Landmark. Since
The exhibition details some of the crossover of the gifted young artist and the hosting compound. In the ‘30s, he made charming realistic drawings of wee young George Steed Bass (who, in 1993, turned the estate into a nonprofit), romping around in short pants on the property, by the gardens and in the large workshop where his father spent much time and energy, and which earned the property the nickname “House of the Blacksmith.”
Mr. Peake also left his lingering artistic imprints on the interior of the Casa, including a myth-based frieze painting in the house’s “book tower,” designed by famed Santa Barbara-based architect Lutah Maria Riggs. He also painted a Centaur scene in a Moorish nook by an entertainment center in the house, with little “Georgy” serving as a model for a part boy-horse-sea life figure playing a horn, above the shelf holding another loveable relic, a turntable.
Music, as it turns out, played a role in the art life of Mr. Peake, as seen in his 1965 painting on display, “Rhythmic Jazz,” which translates his love of jazz (and hanging out in jazz clubs) into an abstracted impression of a trumpet, set into a palpably rhythmic composition. But the real subject of the painting is the music itself.
Jazz, with its exploratory, improvisatory nature and American individualist ethos, inspired the painter, alongside such varied influences as early European modernism—especially Cubism—and his life as a hands-on rancher (vs. gentleman rancher). These influences merge and are made apparent in the handful of actual canvases brought out for display from the County Art Collection.
From the rancher factor, we find his large, ruggedly formal paintings “Horse and Man,” a classic example of his “cowboy Cubist” style painted in 1959, and “Shaman,” a mythic animal spirit vision. Just as a trumpet is mythicized and altered in “Rhythmic Jazz,” the painter followed his instinct to “biomorphically” alter a functional object, rendering its symbolic, in his canvas called “Vertical Farm Implement.” The artist’s model was an inanimate object, seen down on the ranch, but elevated through art to talisman status, and even with a sly echo of Georgia O’Keeffe in its evocation of bones.
His beloved Santa Ynez Valley home base is paid semi-abstractionist tribute in the smaller “Mountain and Cachuma Lake,” a late period painting from 1980. He also dives deeper into the juxtaposition of purer abstraction and reinvention with “Aquatic Rhythm,” another rhythmic exercise, but this time realized in an image of signature cubist visual blocks and forms below and overlaid with pointillist sprinkles of dots/bubbles.
With this painting, and the others in the gallery bearing his name, Mr. Peake manages the feat of creating an aesthetic balancing intellectual and Modernist ideas with an organic sense of the sensual. That may be the rancher-cowboy speaking, and/or the jazz fan.