by BRUNI Sablan
Premiere Issue March-May 2005
BRUNI has run her own Art Gallery in the Bay
Area for over 27 years
by Tamika Bush
There are very few artists in the world who can capture the essence and soul of a subject in
their work. Bruni (pronounced Brew-nee) Sablan is among those artists who not only captures
the soul but also engages us in a way that allows us to see into the depths of the people she
paints. Bruni has established herself among the Bay Area's top artists, although never really
seeking recognition for her talent.
Born in Brazil, her father introduced her to great jazz musicians like Monk, Louie, Dizzy and her
favorite Miles Davis. "My father listened to all the great jazz musicians as I was growing up. I
was five years old when I was first introduced to their music." The biggest supporter of her
talent was her father, who not only ushered a love of jazz into her life, but also encouraged her
painting. "I'm not into discovering things, I'm into painting."
As a young girl, Bruni spent most of childhood playing with paints and developing her skill. "I
didn't know that I had a gift... I just did it for fun." She received her first set of box paints at
fifteen, soon after the family came to the Santa Clara Valley from Brazil. Her
half-Sicilian/half-Lebanese roots have unmistakably influenced the mix of style and substance
evidenced in her art.
Bruni's work is showcased at the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian
museum in Washington, DC, where one of her portraits of Duke Ellington was acquired for
display in 1996.
She has designed numerous CD and album covers for top jazz artists such as Duke Ellington,
Joe Henderson and Emily Remier. Bruni has run her own art gallery here in the bay area for
over 2O years. The gallery also serves as the home of The Jazz Masters Series. Even with the
various accomplishments and accolades her work has received, Bruni remains modest and
low-key about the value placed upon her art.
Her love of classic jazz has given her a respect for jazz musicians both past and present.
"Brazilians love and support jazz. They (Brazilians) don't treat jazz musicians like they do here
(in the U.S.). They treat them with great respect; they have great respect for the art form."
Although Bruni is well known for the wide variety of jazz-inspired pieces she creates, she
doesn't limit herself. Portraits of Diana Ross, Madonna, Tina Turner, Prince, and Cher are just
some of the other subjects that she has immortalized on canvas. Bruni's portraits are defined
by thick, broad brush strokes utilizing every color of the palette, and are scattered with
splashes and dabs of hues that highlight and shadow to bring out the best in her subjects.
Bruni feels that honesty and virtuosity, combined with the fact that she has spent over half her
life in complete dedication to her craft, are what make her art appealing and different. Her
purpose for doing workshops and talking with young people wanting to break out in the art
scene is to open their eyes to real success and accomplishment. "You have to give up
materialism. You have to give up expectations. You have to give up all the glitter, phoniness
and lies...dishonesty and corruption. You have to give all this up." Bruni observes, "To me a
great artist lives. [Be it] a great musician, great painter, great writer, whoever, [a great artist] is
somebody who's willing to walk that walk, because that's how hard it's going to be."
Bruni encourages those artists that are serious about the art form. She is honest when
describing the hard knocks that an artist may go through. She also emphasizes the philosophy
of doing it not for the materialism but for the love of the craft.
A favorite quote that Bruni uses is from an alto sax player named Phil Woods. (DOWNBEAT
October 2004). In the quote, Woods is talking about teaching jazz and Bruni equates it to
Teaching jazz is like fattening frogs for snakes. I don't teach, but I tell kids at clinics what I'd do
if I did teach at a University. I'd put them on a bus and paint the windows black, give them ugly
uniforms and 400 pieces of music out of order that need all sorts of doubling (clarinet, oboe,
flugelhorn). I'd drive them around campus for 30 hours in circles, going nowhere. Then I'd
stop, [drop] everybody off, put on the plastic uniforms, set up on a dark stage with no sound
system or sound man, tune up, call out a number 1479!...[They'd have to] scramble to put their
music in order "All right, now put it all away, hang up your uniform, get back on the bus and
drive around in circles for another 30 hours." After a few days, I'd ask them, "Now, who wants
to make this their life?" You can save people a whole lot of trouble, because this is what the
music business is. It's not about the music. The music is easy! It's all that other stuff. To play
with young energy is simple, but to sustain a career in music takes a lot of dedication. You may
major in Coltrane, but you gotta play Britney Spears on tour for a living.
Miles Davis has been a favorite subject of Bruni's jazz giants to capture on canvas. "We think
alike, I met him. He's beautiful. Physically, he was born to be painted." Bruni states that at
times the spirit of Miles, which has inspired her to paint him, visits her.
The spirit that lives within Miles becomes alive and directs Bruni in how he wants to be painted.
Just as Miles was a very mysterious creation, Bruni embraces that same mystery. "He had
guts! You couldn't fool him and you couldn't put one over on him. I don't think he was
impressed by much except evolving, evolving, evolving, until he dropped dead from
exhaustion... I will keep on painting Miles to the point where people look at him and drop to
their knees and maybe they will see something."
Bruni does not consider herself to be a "super-spiritual" person, but she values honesty and
truth. "I admire people like Jerry Lewis and Bill Cosby who speak their minds, and many others
that are wonderful and are still alive and still have a breath in them to speak their minds.
These are the people that I admire and paint and love. Mother Theresa is another one...she
was a tough broad. People don't know that. They think she was just this little nun. No, no she
wasn't. I have a picture of the Mother House in India. Man, she walked the walk, you know what
I mean? She wasn't just dressed up in a nun's outfit doing that stuff. And so I did a whole
tribute to her, which will continue." Bruni is very in-tune with life and death and she values
creation. "The importance of a person is their soul," she says. And that is the message she
offers, acknowledging what God has blessed her with. "our soul is encased in these flesh
outfits, that's all. The soul is eternal... the spirit is eternal... I'm not sure if I buy reincarnation. I
think that we evolve."
Bruni was recently invited to participate in the largest auction of jazz memorabilia and
collectibles in history. Guernsey's Auctioneers held the event in New York City at the end of
January and early February 2005. Twelve of her masterpieces were selected for auction. other
items selected by various artists were Charlie Parker's "King" saxophone, John Coltrane's
handwritten compositions and Miles Davis' outrageous costumes. Bruni is the only painter
invited to participate in this event.
Guernsey's, an established auction house for over 30 years, has also hosted exhibits of Elvis
Presley, JFK, Mickey Mantle, the Titanic and many others. The auction was promoted via CNN,
the Today Show, and Good Morning America to name a few.
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