An Artist's Journey through the 20th Century

Channing Peake (1910-1989) cut a unique path through the art world for six decades, reflecting in deeply personal terms many of the great upheavals of his time - upheavals that transformed art in the 20th century. Restless, inquiring, and devoted to experimentation, Peake heeded a powerful inner compass during his long journey. That compass led him to artistic heights, but it also brought him into conflict with family and friends. Through it all, applauded or disparaged, he continued exploring new territory, faithful to a deep inner calling.

While Peake achieved a good measure of recognition in his lifetime, he, like many other artists, fell out of critical view (and favor) in the latter part of his life - and into obscurity after his death. As the world changed around him, Channing Peake became yesterday's news. The irony is that his work has never lost any of its artistic force. If anything, it seems even more powerful in today's frenzied and fractured art scene. The art of Channing Peake has what all substantial art has - boldness of conception, seriousness of purpose, and the depth that comes from inspired, courageous, and honest effort.

Channing Peake's Life in Art

As an artist, Channing Peake stands out for the breadth of his interests. He inquired into both outer and inner phenomena - the properties of material objects and the psychological processes of perception and expression. Over the years, Peake was drawn to explore the territory between objective and non-objective painting, combining a love of the physical world with an interest in underlying or archetypal structures, including what might be called "energy fields." Although fascinated by physical forms, he was ready to deconstruct them in his search for a greater reality.

Peake's imagery flowed from diverse sources: the indigenous peoples of the Ameri-cas, Pre-Columbian art, ranch life, nature, the human figure, the world of jazz, and color and light phenomena, to name the obvious ones. He drew profusely, worked in oil, watercolor, and gouache, painted murals, and created bronze-cast sculptures.

A Journey in Two Worlds

For all his artistic passion, Channing Peake had other loves, including the rolling ranchland of the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County. It was there that he presided over the fabled Rancho Jabali - a place known for quarter horses, roping contests, and frequent visits by Hollywood celebrities. Together with his wife, Katy Peake, he ran the 1,600-acre Jabali as a working ranch. It was also his sanctuary, a place where he found inspiration and drew sustenance from the land.

In a catalogue for an exhibit at the Frank Perls Gallery in Los Angeles in 1953, Peake made the following observation about what he viewed as the complementary relationship between ranching and painting: "There has always been, for me, in handling the material of my immediate surroundings, the twofold aspects of observer and participant. Concern for the well-being of this land, the animals, the crops, and all of the implements of husbandry have become integrated into my painting, thought, and feeling. There is not a definite line of separation; the continuing processes of painting and ranching overlap and intermingle.

Bridging the worlds of art and ranching, Channing Peake played a vital role in Santa Barbara County for several decades. He helped establish the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and he was also a founding member of the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Association. Even today, his influence can be felt in the cultural life of Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley.