Features & Columns
When I search for the eyes of Miles Davis, a Bruni painting is among the likenesses that emerge. At least in Google, that is. And when I slither into 1171 Lincoln Ave. in Willow Glen, his eyes appear slightly to the right of the entrance, as I cross the threshold.
They stare back at me, in a small cordoned-off area that Bruni has dedicated to the iconoclastic jazzman of mystery. To You Miles the wall says, in more ways than one.
Originally from Sao Paolo, Brazil, Bruni has created a catalog of jazz paintings that reached epic proportions decades ago, but her new space in Willow Glen will celebrate its one-year anniversary this Saturday, complete with vino from the Thomas Fogarty Winery and music by Tim Volpicella. She refers to him as "Tommy."
Before the current location, Bruni set up shop in Campbell for 11 years, and before that, Los Gatos landlords allowed her to stay for 19 years.
The Lincoln Avenue compound features an incalculable amount of paintings on the walls. Every jazz legend I can think of surrounds me as I contemplate the scene. After I experience the Miles Davis subdivision in the right front corner, I look left towards the shrine to Einstein. A Mother Teresa Chapel occupies the middle of the gallery, to the right.
Piles of binders, each one containing images of sold paintings, sit on a table. There are also paintings of Picasso, Sinatra and the famous Brazilian Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna. A small statement on the table says: "Great art doesn't have to match the sofa."
Aside from painting some of the greatest jazz people, Bruni can weave tales about meeting just about everyone. The stories flow. She initially attended gigs up and down the Bay Area, sketching musicians from her spot in the audience. Her career grew from there. Not only has she painted more than 1,400 portraits, but she's also spoken to many of her subjects in person.
"I'm pretty lucky," Bruni says. "I've met some of the greatest human beings that walked the Earth."
Bruni famously paints only at nighttime. She begins at midnight and works through the wee hours, while the Willow Glenites are busy sleeping. Her subjects, the jazzmen and women of legend, were often conflicted characters exhibiting both a dark side and light side. Even though many of them suffered greatly, Bruni says they always conveyed a sense of humor.
"In the jazz world, I've never come across a dark spirit," she says. "It doesn't matter how many drugs they've done, it doesn't matter how much they did themselves in. It wasn't through being dark, it was through being in pain. The most that I do is I acquire their pain for maybe a couple of days, and it stays with me. Basically, I'm kind of a channel in a way, which is why nighttime helps too. I feel their pain, I feel what they went through, I become them. It's like method acting."
In this way, her process of painting these individuals becomes a spiritual exploration, however you attempt to elaborate such a concept. The way I see it, the energy of the musician is the painting is the process is the experience and the entire encounter. There is no separation, no dividing line between performer and audience, between the painter and the subject.
"Psychically, I can feel everything that's going on," says Bruni. "Especially if it's an entity that suffered a lot, I'll be crying when I'm painting—Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Bill Evans. Almost all of the jazz greats were people that were kicked in the teeth."
Best of all, Bruni's compound in the heart of Willow Glen is where this all goes down. It's like a secret vortex of creativity amid the genteel conformist landscape. One can only guess how her career will evolve from here.
"My ambition is to be able to have all of the greats painted before I die," she declares. "Just this year, there's so many people who've passed—Etta James, Johnny Otis—I'm behind, there's so many others I haven't done. I have a list and I'd like to catch up with that list someday. The plan is to just paint them all."
Bruni Gallery Anniversary