When Laguna artist Jorge Burtin retired young from his family plastics business, he found he had a lot of time on his hands.
He now spends his days creating what he calls Pixaics, mosaics of thousands of tiny pieces of pigmented glass, like the pixels on a computer screen; 25 of them can fit into a square-inch area.
“I switched one job for the other,” he said.
Each piece of Burtin’s art sells for tens of thousands of dollars, but Burtin requires buyers to write a check for the purchase amount to a charity of their choice — not to Burtin himself.
Burtin and his family live in a Laguna Beach coastal neighborhood, in a home with a commanding ocean view.
“I was successful in my past life,” Burtin said self-effacingly.
After driving his kids to school, Burtin spends 8 to 10 hours in his studio preparing the Pixaics, proceeds from which have benefited organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Laguna Beach.
“Everybody wins,” Burtin said. “I get to be in great places and great homes, and meet great people.”
Burtin will unveil a new piece commissioned for the new Mt. Vernon Slave Memorial at a private event at [seven-degrees] on May 24. His work is on view all month at the venue.
In “Love Hope Faith,” he depicts an African woman with a proud expression and a large Afro, wearing a collar that is a decoratively defiant mockery of her people’s previous station.
Burtin became aware of the opportunity when he met up with some old friends in Las Vegas.
One friend asked to purchase one of his works; they were friends with Sheila Coates, the president of Black Women United for Action, who commissioned the piece for the memorial.
The work will debut on the East Coast in June.
“I’m incredibly excited about it,” Burtin said. “It’s quite an honor for me. They flew me out to the memorial, and I got a chance to walk the grounds.”
Born in Argentina, in Che Guevara’s hometown, Burtin and his family moved to Southern California when he was 3.
From his early days of speaking no English and failing first grade, Burtin graduated fourth in his class from prep school and attended a state university, followed by graduate school at Pepperdine and an MBA at Harvard.
He spent 25 years working in business, until he finally decided to create his art full time.
Burtin sought a timeless medium and finally chose glass, which can last for millions of years without deteriorating.
He was inspired by pieces of Egyptian glass he saw at the Getty Museum.
“When you commit something to a Pixaic, it’s forever,” he said.
Burtin sees the works as a merger of past and present: the ancient mosaic form and the use of pixels.
“We go back to our past to use our present to describe our future,” he said.
“What we value, we commit to art.”
CANDICE BAKER can be reached at (949) 494-5480 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.