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Meet Emir Bezdrob of La Bottega Gallery

Today we’d like to introduce you to Emir Bezdrob.

Emir, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
It’s been an amazing 35 years being surrounded and so deeply involved in art. Everything started for me in the mid 80’s in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia (today Croatia). In the beginning, I didn’t have a lot of ambitions, I didn’t see this as some lucrative business that would take me around the world, let alone something I would make a career out of. The startup idea was for fun and for extra cash in the summer. Opening a gallery and offering art (and crafts) to the countless tourists coming to Dubrovnik. Sounds pretty simple right?

Well, that summer I fell in love with art, with having an art gallery and learning as much as I could about all the different techniques and artists. I fell in love with sharing talented artists and helping people choose art that speaks to them. Needless to say, that summer gallery turned into something more.

My new deeper passion for art helped me find a style of art that really spoke to me. This is where black & white Italian engravings came to play and would later be part of my largest art collection. When my family and I moved to Italy, I was surrounded by extremely talented artist of this craft and it inspired me to dive in and learn as much as possible. I was intrigued that there were such strict guidelines involved within this art form. I wanted to become an expert in Italian engravings, and that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

Everything was going well for my wife and I and our new life in Italy. She was finishing her Master’s degree, we had a baby daughter, continued growing our professional lives, everything was looking up. Until… war broke out in Yugoslavia (home country). Our house bombed, memories lost and suddenly, our family was having to make very hard life-altering decisions, pretty quickly. We were approved for American Visas and my wife, daughter and I packed up a few suitcases and moved to USA in 1995 leaving everything else behind.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Starting any business isn’t a smooth road. Entrepreneurship takes huge risk but it’s funny how passion always makes up for the struggle. After we moved to the US, I didn’t quit my passion, but it was a different kind of struggle. I had no connections, I didn’t speak any English and didn’t have any money or experience in the American art market. What I DID have at that time was a collection of maybe 100 engravings I brought from Italy, goodwill, the desire, and passion to present to the American audience an entirely new (and indeed very old and traditional) art expression. I started offering those black and white engravings to Interior Designers and Art Galleries and Dealers and the rest is history.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
It was May 2003 when I officially opened a retail gallery in Laguna Beach with exclusive offerings of Italian Contemporary Engravings. I named it “La Bottega dell’Acquaforte.” As a matter of fact, this is an old Italian art term that refers to the history of making and selling a printed work of fine art on paper. At our founding in 2003, La Bottega’s core business was the sale of Italian fine art engravings (Etchings, Aquatints, Mezzotints, Stipple engravings, Dry points – the entire family of printing and printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink.

With renewed public interest in original artworks, the gallery slowly has evolved to represent also a large group of internationally recognized artists in painting and sculpture all over the world. In the beginning, there were a few sporadic exhibitions of painters or sculptors – a small brake from continuous presentation of black and white engravings. It brought a bit of life to the gallery. However, in 2012-2013 the concept changed. First, I discovered a great American artist Curt Labitzke who lives and works in Seattle (WA). His very relaxed and somehow, very “American” approach to the art of engraving-etching, with no so strict rules about the process, gave me an idea to extend the choice – introducing colored etchings, mixed media where the etching is just part of the process.

Once when I added his work as permanent part of art collection in La Bottega, the next step was to present also other art forms in regular base – introducing every month a new guest-painter, presenting artists from all over the world – beautiful paintings and sculptures from USA and Italy, but also from France, England, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia, Russia, Indonesia, India, etc. Even today, it is my great honor and pleasure that I present this large group of artists – painters, sculptors, and engravers from all over the world. Each one brings us the lights, colors, and atmosphere of their own homeland. It is indeed a great pleasure to have this privilege and opportunity every month.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think Los Angeles and the entire region of Southern California, is an ideal place for this kind of art industry. So much diversity, so many cultures, traditions, so many incredible artists coming from all possible countries of the world. Of course, it also implies great challenges and risks, even when the concept and program is pretty clear. First of all, it should be prepared for great financial risks, as renting or buying space in “art places” is extremely high. As with any other business, it takes some time for the “New Gallery” to acquire a certain status, to show continuity in the choice and promotion of artists they would like to present to the audience.

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1 Comment

  1. Curt Labitzke

    June 25, 2019 at 15:47

    Emir,

    Congratulations, this is most exciting. Love your story and hearing more about how you got started!

    New work coming your way soon.

    Thanks for your support over these past few amazing years. Looking forward to visiting the new space and seeing you again.

    Best,

    Curt

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