First published: Fall 2017
“I just want to get [God’s] message out”, Frank Bruno explained when we first met, “I don’t give a **** about anything else.”
A veteran of World War II born in 1925, his website gives detailed explanations of his work (“I’m just a brush … God sends the work orders”) and offers scathing social commentary under the heading, “Would you like to see into the future?”
Ideas for his mostly unsigned paintings, which he prefers to call “visuals”, “just pop into [his] head.” Usually dense with detail, there’s often no place for a signature. Besides, “why bother” when biblical prophecy reveals these to be the end times: “I believe it will be all over within the next 15 years … I’m a watchman warning of approaching danger, not some limp-wristed artist.”
Give Us Barabbas, 1961, oil on canvas, 40 x 60 ins. / 101.6 x 152.4 cm
To Bruno, a “visual” hung for decoration constitutes an art objectification of his message: he brought one back from a collector after it was displayed in the company of “crap”, and has painted duplicates of two others he’s hoping to eventually retrieve because “God told me not to sell”. Of the 60-odd paintings he has made in his lifetime, only one has been donated (to the American Visionary Art Museum) and a few early canvases aren’t hanging in a fire-rated out-building on his desert-valley property in southern Arizona.
Bruno believes that God uses his illustration skills to produce visualisations of the future: “I really feel like I’ve been guided to do what I’m doing all my life … sometimes I make really stupid decisions, but I think it’s for a purpose … I’ve quit several good jobs, because I just had to get back to painting.”
A major exhibition planned by Walter Hopps at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington planned for 1972 – with Bruno as a featured artist – was cancelled after flash flooding damaged many of the other artworks. Discouraged, and having shown what needed to be seen, Bruno stopped painting for about 20 years. He helped found an independent newspaper, and took on the local government through political commentary and satirical cartoons. Bruno read extensively about biblical prophecy and, despite a sudden rash of broken-bone injuries, he resumed painting in the mid 1990s: “anyone who tries to pierce the darkness … had better get accustomed to having their ass kicked … when my paintings began to address the end of this age and the role Satan is to play, bones and joints started snapping and popping like champagne corks at a Mafioso wedding.”
Of the about 30 paintings since 1993, most of them are unconventionally shaped and more than half visualise the coming cataclysms of end times prophecy. Counterfeit Mary, the Drunken Whore (2001) shows a United Nations World-Government-installed, papal-imposter Antichrist presiding over the executions of millions by guillotine, while Satan-as-false-Mary imbibes the blood of the saved.
In Work Hard and Save Your Money (1965), cloaked figures watching clocks drive humanity along the narrow path of material gain like donkeys chasing a carrot, but ultimately into the abyss – where skeletons discover an empty chamber pot at the end of the rainbow and laugh uproariously at the folly of the living.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #95