Swiss born, Buff’s only art education was a brief stint at the School for Arts and Crafts in Saint Gallen, Switzerland. He immigrated to the United States when he was 19 and held a series of jobs that included milking cows and house painting while teaching himself to paint in his spare time. He landed in Los Angeles and had his first man show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1920. California Impressionism was the dominant style of the time but according to Buff, “Impressionism made no impressionism on me.”, Laguna modernists, Gjura Stojana and Mabel Alvarez became his inspirations. He cultivated an angular modernist style using strong color laid down in large color blocks. Buff’s landscapes had a geometric architectural feel.
Buff became close friends with Maynard Dixon in the 30’s. They went on painting trips through the Southwest and executed two mural commissions together under the Public Works of Art Project. Both were aesthetic mavericks working independently of dominant trends in California art.
Buff became a passionate printmaker whose lithographic skills beckoned Stanton Macdonald-Wright and the renowned Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros for his guidance. With his wife, Mary Marsh, he also wrote and illustrated children’s books.