Frank Bruno (b. 1925)
Art by Frank Bruno
Art Type or Medium: Painting
Viewable: by appointment
Secular or Religious: Mixed
Would you like to see into the future?
“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 WWII veteran born in 1925, his website hesawthefuture.com 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, and
“why bother,” 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-wrested artist.”
To Bruno, one of his ‘visuals’ hung for decoration constitutes an art object-ification of his message: he bought 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. “God told me not to sell”: of about 60 lifetime paintings only one donated to the American Visionary Art Museum and a few early canvas’ aren’t hanging in a fire-rated out building on his desert valley property in southern Arizona.
An asthmatic youth, Frank would stay inside the Depression-Era family farmhouse near Douglas, Arizona and draw incessantly: filling telegram paper scraps and washed-off butcher paper with sick-figure battle scenes. On Sundays, he was lured into church by his mother’s offerings of an occasional 10 cent admission into the air-conditioned Saturday fantasies of the local movie theatre. One Sunday, his young polio-stricken friend Billy led him haltingly to the alter, and ten-year-old Frank accepted Christ as his Savior. Months later, his father brought him to visit the now blind, disfigured and dying eleven-year-old and he was dumbstruck to find Billy smiling serenely from the satisfaction of having saved several young souls. Bruno has come to understand that the directed purpose of his life’s work is to pass along Billy’s gift of eternal life to others.
World War II Navy Service
Teenaged Frank had long dreamed of serving on the Navy ship named for his home state. He volunteered in 1941, presented an altered birth certificate and passed the grueling day-long physical, but a sharp-eyed officer sent the sixteen-year-old home with a stern warning. Frank cursed God throughout that sleepless night, but four months later more than 1100 of the Battleship Arizona’s crew lay entombed in Pearl Harbor. He enlisted on his birthday in 1942, sailed “three and a half times around the world” in four years, and was the temporary “proud owner” of a two-story bamboo-floored “whorehouse” in the Philippines.
Bruno tended bar after the war, “it was woman and whiskey . . . one day, God decided enough fun and games for little Frankie, he has a job for me to do: quit bartending and go to art school.” Enticed by the sight of nude models, Bruno enrolled at Woodbury College in Los Angeles and completed a four-year commercial art degree in 1950. While a friend studying fine art was encouraged to imitate mid-century Modernism, Bruno mastered the fundamentals of representational art, and in retrospect, he’s sure God tempted him away from “feel good, I’m a rebel” art schools and “saved [him] as an artist.”
He returned to southern Arizona and worked on a freight railroad for nine years. The solitary job and desert terrain “unchanged for thousands of years,” provided a “wilderness experience” that put earthly life in perspective: “it was Moses’ old finishing school.” Rails brought the warmth of sunlight into frigid evenings, and during thunderstorms, rattlesnakes would reach higher ground and heat by curling onto the tracks. For the brakemen seated low near the front, the rear-facing engine’s running lights would spotlight the rattlesnakes being pulverized – just as they struck fiercely at the suddenly onrushing locomotive. From the caboose, he would look up into the deep starry skis for hours while the train swayed and clicked hypnotically along. Bruno recalls being surrounded by thousands of kilometers of dark Indian Ocean on a blacked-out Navy ship, and becoming “spellbound” by the moonless sight of the Southern Cross constellation “like a veil [over the word of God] had been lifted.” Forty years later, his series of antediluvian zodiac paintings were partly inspired by these primordial visions [slide 1].
Post-war civilian illustrator work for military branches
He went on to work as an Army, Navy, Air Force, and Civil Defense illustrator in Washington DC and Arizona before settling into a single room of his mother’s hotel – eventually living alone in the forty-room building for more than a decade.
In the early 1960’s Bruno worked briefly as a security guard in New York City where he painted an Asian island stage set for the Ballet Arts, and his illustration portfolio brought several science-fiction magazine covers:
Return to Douglas, prescient apocalyptic paintings
But disillusioned with the city and its art galleries, he returned home to the hotel in Douglas and completed a group of paintings that anticipated the decline of America and the 911 catastrophe. With a catheter attached to his penis, a decorated, but nearly skeletal old soldier clings to life under a bare light bulb as cockroaches crawl over symbols of American prosperity in “Prognosis Grave” (1960) [slide 2]. In“Manhattan Hoe Down” (1964), a percussive skyline explosion causes anal dog trumpets to release skull and bone siren wails as dazed citizens wander aimlessly among grave markers that suggest fallen skyscrapers. In the foreground, urban dog-walking human-goat-demons spiral into the underworld to eleven notes of the ‘funeral march’ in Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 [slide 3]. “Monument to Donkey Dick” (1964) shows the aftermath of a biological attack still to come: the Empire State Building surrounded by dark chaos teeming with dog/human mutations [slide 4].
Bruno believes God uses his illustration skills to produce visualizations 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 curated 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 in his paintings 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:
During this time Bruno read extensively about biblical prophecy, and despite a sudden rash of broken bone injuries he resumed painting in the mid-1990’s:
“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.”
After three years of research into original names, star colors, and precise draftsmanship, Bruno completed the two-meter, winged-shaped, heavens-split-asunder canvas “The Zodiac…By God!” (1993-6) [slide 5]. A detail shows Ophiuchus (Christ the Redeemer) holding back the jeweled-crown-reaching serpent (Satan) while he steps on the heart of the deadly Scorpion (below: a). The tear-away pages with “Stars: The Antediluvian Bible” (2006) meticulously charts the biblical passages seen in the painting’s constellations (below: b), but his conventionalized depiction of a galleon-shaped Noah’s Ark bothers Bruno: “if I painted a barge with a long roof on top people wouldn’t know what it was . . . you have to . . . bend a little bit . . .” (below: c)
When translated, the Morse code tear-away with “seh le’ Adonai, Yeshua” (2003) [slide 6] states the exponential odds “more than all the atoms in the universe” that all of the fulfilled biblical prophecies to date could have come true by accident.
“Everyone wants a free ticket to heaven,” chuckles Bruno: the rainbow-winged container of heavenly passes mounted below “A Sunday School Lesson… For Bad Boys” (2007) [slide 7] empties out quickly when the painting is shown.
Shaped canvases / End Times
Of the about thirty mostly shaped paintings since 1993, more than half visualize the coming cataclysms of end times prophecy. In “Return of the Death Planet” (2004) [slide 8], Marduk – stylized to resemble ancient Assyrian and Egyptian winged-sun symbols – a gravity-disrupting giant rogue planet, causes the earth’s axis to shift: tropical trees are covered in
snow, a tsunami-tossed ocean liner appears to be a wave-riding surfboard. Symbolically entering the painting from the side of a layered wood panel: “another dimension,” flying
saucers bring the contamination of demon DNA (above: d). “Counterfeit Mary, the Drunken Whore” (2001) [slide 9], shows a UN World-Government-installed papal-imposter Antichrist presiding over the executions of millions by guillotine, while Satan as false Mary, imbibes on blood of the saved.
With all the explanatory text, tear-aways, and website descriptions, Bruno gets agitated that he’s repeatedly asked to explain his ‘visuals’. In “Reading Funnies, on the Ferris Wheel to Hell” (2017) [slide 10], an inner-circle of apocalyptic end-times biblical prophecies are shown as comic illustrations in the second ring, and detailed ‘visuals’ in the outer-ring. Frank intends the painting to serve as a warning and guide to near future events, “like a brochure,” he recalls the shocking fulfillment of his earlier visuals and has no doubt that we have been shown the future.
- Norbert Kox: Apocalypse House & Museum of Visionary Art
- William Thomas Thompson: Part 1
- News & Events: Frank Bruno featured in Raw Vision Magazine