In Memoriam: Chris Potter 1975-2024

Celebration of Life

The life of Chris Potter will be celebrated at the Elings Performing Arts Center at Dos Pueblos High School on Saturday, February 24, 1 p.m. Attendees are being asked to register in advance by visiting

The crew who joined Chris Potter at Convivo during his 49th birthday bike ride on January 28, 2024, the day before his actual birthday.

My Papa

Zenia Potter Remembers Her Dad, Artist Chris Potter

by Zenia Potter

My dad was the type of guy who lit up a room. He had this special talent of managing to make me laugh no matter the circumstances.

My time with him was always filled with joy and so much happiness. It was so precious to be in his company. I’m grateful for everything he’s shared with me and everything he’s shared with the world, whether it was a simple story or a complex, breathtaking painting. I hope to follow his legacy and be like the great man he was.

A favorite part of my childhood with him was the early morning soccer games he managed to take me to every weekend so he could watch me play. We laughed on the way there and laughed on the drive back. As simple as they are, I’m happy to have those memories and more to look back on. This whole community will miss him — all of our friends, all of our family, and all of me.

I love you, papa.

Chris Potter with his daughter, Zenia (left); Mason and Madeline Kettmann (middle); and his son, Malakye, in December 2016 in the Kettmann front yard.

Our Love Story

The Love Story of Chris Potter and Julie Beaumont

by Julie Beaumont Potter

This is the story of how Chris and I met, which I will forever cherish because it is what inspires movies and books.

After graduating college in Quebec in 2001, I left for a three-month backpacking trip across Europe. I was in a long-term relationship that was not quite fulfilling, but I didn’t know that yet.

For the last five days of my trip, I was in Paris, awaiting my return flight. On a Sunday morning, I went out walking on the deserted streets and kept passing two young men on the other side of the street. When they approached me, one said, “Excuse me, où est la rue?” in a thick American accent. “You can talk to me in English,” I replied in an equally thick French-Canadian accent. “I’m a tourist.”

We talked about our travels, including my visit to the island of love, Corsica, where I spent three weeks with three friends sleeping in a two-door Fiat.

“Did you fall in love?” asked Chris, his way to peek into my relationship status.

I told him I already had a boyfriend, but that I was later going to the Arc de Triomphe with a bottle of wine to see Paris at night.

We made plans to meet, but then the 24-hour stomach bug that was going through their group hit Chris. He didn’t think he’d make it out that night, but he made it into the taxi. When his other friends arrived, I asked right away, “Where’s Chris?” He slowly made his way over, white-faced, having just gotten sick after the taxi ride.

The guard at the Arc de Triomphe kept my wine bottle as the four guys had a hard time keeping up with my 21-year-old, super-in-shape self going up the stairs. Up there, I saw the City of Light through Chris’s eyes, and his friends told me he was an artist.

Back down at the park, we drank wine and walked through Paris. Chris and I fell in love on a bridge over the Seine. We took a picture of that exact spot in 2022 when we visited following his fight against cancer.

We had a night of cuddles (truly) while rain poured down on Paris. Early in the morning, after a night of no sleep, we walked to a small park where people were practicing tai chi. We sat under a gazebo, holding hands, looking into each other’s soul, both of us knowing that we had met our soul mate. Only 18 hours together, and our fate was sealed. We said goodbye at 10 a.m., he flew back to California, and I wrote to him the next day, “Are you an angel or a devil?”

I went back to Quebec and broke up with my boyfriend. He was a great, beautiful man, but our relationship was no match for the love that would come from Chris. Then September 11 happened, and so did cheap plane flights right after. I booked a flight to California less than a week later and stayed with Chris for two weeks. I was in love for sure, and we moved in together in San Diego that December.

The post-9/11 financial crash hit his stockbroking job hard, so we moved to Quebec to start my career. On the way, he asked me to marry him, without a ring, at Glacier National Park. I brought home a fiancé. We married a year later, on June 14, 2003, and moved to Santa Barbara that September to continue building our lives and family together.

We have lived a true love story — in love since we first looked at each other, lost in Paris, then no longer lost. I love you, Chris. We had the best life. I will miss you forever, and forever be Chris Potter’s wife.

Julie and Chris Potter in 2022 on the bridge over the Seine in Paris where they fell in love two decades earlier.

Goodbye, My Friend

by Matt Kettmann

The renowned landscape artist Chris Potter was one of my best friends, but he was also one of the best people I’ve ever met.

I’ve never known someone who so brilliantly used his own natural wonder about the world to spark similar awe in all who gazed upon his creations. His daily dedication and ability to paint efficiently led to remarkable success as an artist, turning what most approach as a hobby into a full-time job to support his family. Despite needing to earn a living through that work, he frequently acted selflessly, donating hundreds of paintings to causes and people who needed a financial or emotional boost.

My life is much brighter for having known him, as is Santa Barbara at large.

We first met about 20 years ago through a weekly poker night, and he quickly became a central fixture of our tight-knit group of friends. We’re united by a collective love for the true soul of Santa Barbara, that confluence of appreciation for nature, thirst for adventure, affinity for eating and drinking well, and sense of community that’s shared by so many of our neighbors. We’ve traded easier lives elsewhere to endure the inherent struggles of living here, existing mostly apart from the polished glitz that so many associate with our town.

Chris Potter epitomized that spirit like no one else in Santa Barbara. It’s no wonder that thousands of people are shocked and saddened to learn of his death.

Potter captured the affection of the greater community back in 2009, when he quit his job as a stockbroker to paint full-time, trading a steady paycheck to chase his dreams. He became a regular feature of the Santa Barbara landscape, posted up with an easel on the Ellwood Bluffs — where one overlook is now being called Potter’s Point — or down at Butterfly Beach, or across from the County Courthouse. It wouldn’t be weird to spot him in Yosemite, either, or on the East Coast, or in France, painting the van Gogh scenes that inspired his career in the first place.

Potter returned to the limelight in 2021, when he was diagnosed with a crazy form of cancer called NUT carcinoma. Somehow, through strategic medical care and a positive outlook, Potter pulled through, outlasting a cancer that usually proves fatal in less than six months. I believe he did so by embracing life, from his painting regime to his passions for friends, family, and, of course, golf.

Potter’s recent cancer scans came back clean. That’s why his death was sudden. He was simply enjoying life as he always had — at an aggressive, unrelenting pace, no doubt, but not expecting to be struck down right now, given all he’d been through.

The last few weeks of his life played out like a farewell tour: late-night talks, poker games, a concert by his favorite band, a bike ride with dozens of friends for his birthday, even golf the morning before he died.

That sad Saturday afternoon, just hours after the tragic news came through, we joined his wife, Julie; his son, Malakye; and his daughter, Zenia, on the Ellwood Bluffs. We walked out across spilled rose petals to gather at Potter’s Point, where we shared hugs, tears, and laughs as the stormy ocean raged below. Flowers were placed, sage was burned, drinks were consumed, and dogs ran wild through the mud. It would have made a great painting. Potter would have loved it.

Spiritual Healing

The Spiritual Healing of Chris Potter

by Lynne Zell

At the core of the Potter-Beaumont family values was and will continue to be a visceral connection with Mother Earth. Beautiful nature abounds, and Chris saw every element always. He and Julie both recognized our dependency on the natural world around us.

Without Chris, we are losing the lightness of living our day to day with someone so profoundly in tune with space and time that they felt compelled to express it as a form of art. It was his routine of turning the human perspective into a spiritual journey, whether sitting on our front porch, painting the cars on the street; celebrating holidays at beaches and campgrounds; or honoring the most memorable moments, like retirements and weddings, for others. I feel so fortunate that I was able to share so many of these experiences with him and with his incredibly spiritual wife, Julie.

I can remember on several occasions Chris sharing his angst with the fact that society was losing this connection with and love for nature. I imagine he hoped his art would interfere with this permeating oversight, if even temporarily.

I watched him lend his spirit to the common passerby and call their attention to his art, not as paintings but as a window to the natural world right in front of us that we take for granted.

Chris Potter is gone. His life is over. And our life with him here is over, an abrupt anticlimactic end to a bearer of light. He would be the first, though, to remind us that nature remains and will continue to provide: the colors, the depth of shadows, the crossing of lines and patterns, the sky, the earth, and all the incredible beauty in between. He is a part of that now, as he spiritually always was. 

Potter’s Point at the Ellwood Bluffs | Photo: Jerry Calkins

My Backpacking Friendship with Chris Potter

Remembering Two Decades of Annual Hikes in Los Padres National Forest

by David Zell

Jack Johnson (lower left), Chris Potter (standing), and Dave Zell jam together in the UCSB dorms. | Credit: Courtesy

My friendship with Chris Potter spanned 30 years, starting in the fall of 1993 in the dorms at UC Santa Barbara. Being an Ellwood native, Potter had a lot of insider information on Isla Vista. That, coupled with his thirst for life and uninhibited charisma, made him a magnetic social force among the doe-eyed freshmen in the Anacapa dorms — the same traits that made him a magnetic artist and community member later in life.

In the 1990s, before social media and cell phones, it was easy to lose touch with friends. By our junior year, life took us down different paths. He eventually graduated and moved away. I changed my major, graduated a little later, and stayed in the Santa Barbara area. We had lost touch until his return to Santa Barbara in 2003, but then there was no looking back.

Not to discredit the numerous poker nights, family camping trips, barbeques, and rounds of golf, my most cherished memories of Potter are from our annual Memorial Day backpacking trips, a 19-year tradition that started in May 2005, when Potter, Kevin Coffman, and I completed a four-day hike through portions of the Dick Smith and San Rafael wildernesses in our local Los Padres National Forest. We were so amazed at what our local forest had to offer and couldn’t wait to do it again. Potter made his first of countless backcountry plein-air paintings on that trip.

In year two, our group grew to five, and we hiked through the Sespe Wilderness to soak in the Willet Hot Springs climb the Topatopa Mountains above Ojai. The annual tradition was solidified on the 2006 trip, and one of the new recruits, who hiked the route in a pair of soggy Vans, coined the term “The Death March” due to the condition of his feet by the end of the trip. Following Potter’s cancer diagnosis in 2022, the annual trip was renamed “The Life March” in support of his recovery.

In year three (2007), we visited Mission Pine Spring, which immediately became Potter’s favorite location in the Southern Los Padres National Forest — a locale revisited in year nine (2013) and on the first Life March in year 19 (2022). On year five (2009), we expanded the annual tradition to include visits to remote Chumash pictograph sites. To witness Potter painting on these trips while also experiencing the remnants of ancient art added a whole new dimension to the appreciation of place.

Potter had always been one of the strongest hikers in the group. Where most of us were gasping for air on the ascents, Potter would be effortlessly chatting away. A great distraction for us all. Even after his treatment, which slowed him down considerably, it did not slow down his creativity or gift of gab.

The size of the group participating in the annual trip has waxed and waned over time, with as many as 11 participating in the Death March and 18 participating in last year’s Life March. In total, 26 people ranging from chefs, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, scientists, photographers, and more, have participated in one or more Life or Death March over the last 19 years and had the opportunity to experience wilderness firsthand while witnessing Potter’s artistic interpretations of it. Often with sand and gnats imbedded in the brush strokes, his back country paintings were some of my favorites as we were part of the experience.

Potter’s passing a few months shy of the 20th anniversary compounds the crushing sadness. We’ve decided to proceed with this year’s trip as a continuation of the celebration of Potter’s life, but what happens in the years following is uncertain.

What is certain, is that the Life-or-Death March will never be the same again. He was the life of the Death March, and his death marks the end of the Life March. Rest in peace, Christopher Joseph Stewart Potter.

Dave Zell (left) with his friend Chris Potter | Credit: Tyler Tomblin

Below are Chris’s appearances in and contributions to the Independent over the years:

A Very Good Man

Full Belly Files | Goodbye, Chris Potter

Obituary: Chris Potter

Skin Deep Remembers Chris Potter

Chris Potter Has Died

Paddling for Potter

Support the Friendship Paddle for Chris Potter

The Friendships of Nature

Full Belly Files: Always Bring a Chef, Especially When Camping

Fundraiser for Santa Barbara Artist Chris Potter

‘Saving Land for Science’ Sept. 24 Cover Painting

The S.B. Questionnaire: Chris Potter

Chris Potter

Year-Long Painting Journey Ends

Chris Potter Paints a Landscape a Day

The Chris, Julie, and Malakye Potter-Palooza


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