For six months now, Marton Varo, Brea’s artist-in-residence, has been adding his small share to the din along Birch Street.
At first, it’s difficult to pick out the sound of Varo’s work over the earthmovers, jackhammers and other construction equipment busily creating new hotels, office buildings and shopping centers in the area around the city’s civic center. But the faint clink of a chisel on marble or the whir of his grinder emerges during the occasional heavy-equipment lulls.
Since February, Varo has become a fixture in front of the civic center, chipping and sawing away. In recent weeks, the slim rectangle of Carrara marble has given way to a signature Varo piece, a draped female.
Varo named the piece “Breaking Free,” a title chosen from 150 suggestions offered by Brea residents. He will officially present the sculpture and announce its name to the City Council Tuesday.
All that’s left to do before “Breaking Free” can be installed in its permanent home is for a fine layer of marble dust to be swept off the sculpture, Varo said. And with that phase of the project all but complete, the artist now has turned his attention to two giant chunks of limestone.
When finished, that limestone will yield a pair of matching Egyptian-like sculptures that will be placed in a pond at the neighboring Embassy Suites Hotel.
“It’s going to be very impressive,” Varo said of the pond, which will include a waterfall.
Varo’s one-year term as the city’s artist-in-residence is part of a program to make public art commonplace in Brea. Developers of buildings over a certain size are required to install a piece of outdoor art that must win city approval. The city also exhibits works in various locations.
But having an artist-in-residence does more than just give the city the fruits of Varo’s labor. In addition to the city acquiring the Varo sculpture, Brea residents have the opportunity to watch the artist at work and to see the progress of a sculpture as it is transformed from a marble slab into a finished piece.
“One of the purposes of the (artist-in-residence) program is art education,” Varo said. “To show the process and to make people enthusiastic about art.”
In that regard, his stay has been a success, Varo said. Many people stop to watch and question the Hungarian sculptor, who is in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship. One man came by with his teen-age son to tell Varo that he had been watching the statue’s progress and was impressed with what he saw.
“It’s wonderful,” the man said.
That kind of remark is gratifying for Varo, not just as an affirmation of his work, but because he believes that a city should make an effort to present art to its residents. Brea’s dedication to public art, Varo said, is widely practiced in Europe but rarely so in this country.