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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Artists' Block

Despite Economic Pressures, Local Artist Keeps Laguna Culture Alive
By: Anush J Benliyan

Rummaging around in her studio, looking for an appropriate sized piece of French print paper, local artist, Hedy Buźan, explains that it is the busiest time of the year. As June approaches, Buźan is in the midst of preparing for Laguna Beach’s annual local summer art festivals, The Sawdust Festival and The Festival of Arts, in which she has been showing for many years. It was through this involvement that her dynamic monotypes, collages, and paintings, which illustrate a perfect hybrid between locally inspired landscape and abstract art, were noted and she was asked to join the other 26 members of the Laguna Canyon Artists in 2008. What looks like a housing complex along Laguna Canyon Road is in fact a collection of rented individual artist studios where local professional artists working in diverse media produce artwork. This is where we find Buźan rummaging, still, looking for that piece of paper…

“I’m constantly reorganizing,” Hedy admits, having finally found the small paper support, a square about 6” by 6”, an essential component in the craft of hand-pulling prints, an elaborate form of using an etching-press and an etched zinc plate to create a work of art. She places the paper in a tray of water, submerging it completely among a group of six or seven already soaked sheets. A look of deep wonder momentarily occupies her face, and Hedy begins to open and close cabinets and drawers, clearly on the search for something, again. She bends down and reappears almost instantly with a box of her previously hand-carved etched metal and plastic plates. Fingering through them, she picks out a small metal plate and moves swiftly to the desk to her left, its glass tabletop already prepped with five blotches of paint. To the untrained eye, a simple black, blue, yellow, red and green, but to Hedy, a very carefully picked out palette: a mixed black, an ultramarine (classic) blue, an Indian (classic) yellow, a mixed earth red, and a mixed green . The colors, she explains, are reminiscent of the colors of nature. “They’re not the new, bright colors that come out of your printer. They’re pigments with less intensity. A fairly limited palette.”


Hedy Buźan’s self-assigned, challenging palette is not the only limit to her art, however. Laguna Beach, which has attracted and inspired artists and creative-minds with its coastal landscape, weather, and lighting since the 1920s, has a different, critical limitation for its working artists today: its ever increasing high cost of living.

Buźan, whose father was also a Laguna Beach artist, shares that she understood at a young age, living among other artists and intellectuals, that the life of an artist was not an affluent one. “I knew that there was no money in it,” she says, but admits that this is an especially mounting issue for aspiring artists in Laguna Beach today.

Although the artist colony has been a tourist destination since the early 20th century, many of its artists, who undoubtedly aid in the city’s magnetism, are becoming more and more incapable of affording to live in their community, as the city attracts wealthier visitors and inhabitants. According to a recent study based on average home prices, Laguna Beach is the third most expensive city in the United States today, with a whopping $6,069,151 as an average home cost, over $800,000 more than Beverly Hills’ average home price.

From a quick glance you can tell that Hedy Buźan is a Laguna Beach local, with her sun-kissed skin and flip-flops. Yet even after being born and raised in Laguna Beach, Buźan, the self-declared “Canyon Rat” was obligated to move out of her city to her current home in Laguna Woods. “I’ve had a rich lifestyle…but not a wealthy one,” Hedy says sagely. Still, she is grateful. “The Festival of Arts and the Sawdust Arts Festival allow artists to live here,” she says proudly, giving good reason for her dedication to the festivals after so many years.



She dips the end of a scrap of thick paper into the mixed black paint, using it as a brush, and wipes down the palette. The subtle yet dynamic elevations in the carved plexiglass are flushed with color, its abstract indentations filled with paint. She grabs a piece of porous fabric and wipes down the plate, staining it (and her fingers) in the process. She repeats this procedure – adds a layer of paint, stains, wipes a good amount off, adds a layer, stains, wipes, and so on.

With the professionalism and speed that only an artist with years of experience can exemplify, Buźan adds bits of her limited palette to the surface, playing around with the paints’ fluidity, manipulating it with an ease and a sense of comfort.

“The reason I like to make prints,” Hedy reveals, “is there’s something about the way that the ink moves and glides, (especially on acid-etched metal), that’s really interesting to me.” She elaborates, not once losing her focus. “I’m really interested in accidents,” she continues, “or actually, the part of accidents that you choose to retain. What life hands you and what you choose to accept out of that…”



Hedy loads some of her pieces into her Chevrolet, on whose bumper a worn-down sticker sits, apparently several years old, which reads: “Half the World Lives on $2 a Day.” She heads South, towards the two festivals, both under construction for the approaching season, to check up on her booths.

“A real lifeline for people in this community,” Hedy explains, “has been the Sawdust Festival. But the thing is, you need to establish residency for two years, and that’s not having a studio, that’s having a residence in Laguna Beach. And, pretty much, the cheap little places to live in Laguna Beach have really dried up. So that’s a problem.”

The Sawdust Arts Festival, established in the 1960s, has a fair-like atmosphere which is open to artists, jewelers, and craftsmen alike, and open to more locals than The Festival of Arts, despite their residency requirement. The Festival of Arts, founded in the 1930s, according to Buźan, is more exclusive, with a jury that hand selects applicants to the show. With less of an arts-and-crafts feel, the Festival of Arts is more like an outdoor art gallery, Buźan says. Here, visitors are prepared to spend the big bucks, an ideal event for avid art collectors.

Furthermore, the Festival of Arts hosts the popular Pageant of the Masters, a live human reenactment of famous artists’ masterpieces, which sells out nearly every night, according to Hedy, and brings in plenty of profits. It is these profits that allow selected artists, like Buźan, to afford booths, costing the artists about $275, in contrast to the Sawdust’s booths, which can cost anywhere from $650 to $1,250.

These art festivals are keeping the artist community alive, a real lifeline in a sense. With revenues from the Festival of Arts given to the city of Laguna Beach and a large tourist gathering for the Pageant of the Masters, the summer’s premier attraction, artists lucky enough to have their feet in the door are able to show, sell, and work.

Satisfied with her painted monotype, at last, Buźan returns to her 6” by 6” soaking French-print paper and removes it, 30 minutes later, to take to the press. The relatively small press, which Hedy had paid $1,800 for, has been the source of many of her smaller-scaled works. She cautiously places the monotype and the now responsive French print paper in their correct positions between the felt blankets and turns the handle which propels the press bed between two stainless steel rollers, pressing the moistened paper tightly into the grooved plate and capturing the ink. As the end product awaits to be pulled from the plate, Hedy explains that when it comes to printmaking, she begins with about 75 percent of an initial vision, but a 25 percent of chance, allowing her to “see where [the piece] goes.” A lot of it is intuitive, she explains. “When I start a piece, I don’t think of my audience. My personal interest can be a technique and I conceptualize and find my intent along the way.”

She pulls the print. “This one might be a hard one,” she reflects. “[It] has very little relationship to landscape, except for maybe a swampland…” She places it down next to some previously finished monoprints, a series of pieces, created in the same method, with a limited palette and a small format. “When I was looking at this, I was figuring I’m going to get a bright light here, I’m going to get repetition here, and movement,” she says, pointing. “…But this I’m probably not satisfied with. I’d need some more time to finish it off.” She abandons her new work of art, briefly, in search of something, yet again, only to return with a rolled up paper tube which she drags through the ink. “I know right now that I want a line right here,” she claims as she draws a thin horizontal line, about three centimeters long, along the top of the small monotype. “And I don’t know why!” she exclaims. “I just wanted a line right there…”


Walking around what will in due time be the Festival of Arts, Hedy, all smiles and greeting everyone who passes by with their name, explains her hope to reach the public with her art.“I’m not just out there for myself,” Buźan explains, implying that she is not creating for the sake of creating, that she does have to sell her work. “There is a percentage of my work that I consider to be a product, but then I also just find that if I make what I like, people will discover it for themselves.”

Buźan believes in making art affordable, even in the pricey Laguna Beach, yet not losing her artistic honor, aiding in her own way to save Laguna Beach’s art colony. Take her series of small hand-pulled prints, for instance. “This little series, this is very close to my heart,” she remarks, passionately. “…Yet I know that it will retail at an affordable price [about $55] because they are small.” Buźan says she hopes people will like the series, stating: “I put a lot of my artistic integrity and thought into them.”

The Festival of Arts will take place July 7 – August, 31, 2011 in Laguna Beach, CA.
The Sawdust Festival will take place June 24 – August 28, 2011 in Laguna Beach, CA.

Personal Observation, Hedy Buźan at Work
Hedy Buźan, interview 5/19
Hedy Buźan, interview 5/27
Stephanie Cunningham, interview 5/27
Anne England, interview 5/27








  1. A very interesting and finely written piece. Opening my eyes to artists like Buzan, the article made me feel as if I were present during the interview, and makes me want to be present for the Laguna Beach festivals to actually see what it's all about.

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