San Francisco’s Most Breathtaking Flowers are by Nora Bruhn
The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights Bay Area artists who are doing incredible work, it’s our way of supporting the creative community and helping to keep San Francisco a strange and wonderful place.
You may have seen her massive flowers on Bay Area walls, they have such incredible painted light that they create their own ambiance, and change the way a street corner feels. Everybody may like flowers, but I dare say everybody loves Nora’s murals. So meet Nora Bruhn, a midwesterner who came to San Francisco to be an artist, something our city needs more of these days.
Artist Name: Nora Bruhn
Medium(s): I split my time between murals in latex paint beefed up with acrylics and mixed media canvas paintings.
What was your first job in the Bay Area?
I moved to SF for grad school studying Environmental Management and got my first job as a server at Gracias Madre, a vegan, organic Mexican restaurant in the Mission. I was fortunate to crash-land into a supportive group of community-oriented folks and a healthy work environment after being a certified party animal living in Iowa City during my college years.
Where’s the most creative spot in the Bay Area?
Mmmm, good question. Probably Sketchbook Studio in the Mission. It is a female-owned, badass art studio for kids. Ain’t nobody more creative than a kiddo. Sketchbook Studio is an incubator for that creative spirit. They do incredible work and I am always blown away by the student art shows they host.
Another wildly creative spot is Creativity Explored. This is a space where disabled adults are able to create and sell artwork. Both businesses hold a special place in my heart.
You’re a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or FUCK art school!
Eff art school. Duh. I mean, I am sure it’s great, but I am self-taught.
After about a month of grad school, I dropped out. The idealistic veil surrounding the education system was lifted at that time. I started to question why education is so expensive. I believe the more evolved, future version of homo sapiens will look back at the fact that we made higher education available to those who had money and be very disappointed. I would almost say it’s evil or, at least, unethical and nonintuitive if one seeks to lift a society.
Anyways, enough with that drama. I dropped out of grad school and was a naive, Midwestern girl floating around SF. I felt for the first time I was allowing myself to be receptive to opportunities that wanted to find me. I was open to new inspiration. I quickly found that inspiration in street art. It was a revelatory moment when I told myself, why don’t you just do art? Beautification of the city, art for the people, a place to share myself, it really hit all the notes for me.
“I dropped out of grad school and was a naive, Midwestern girl floating around SF”
I remembered loving my art classes in high school and had not pursued my creativity since. So, I started out drawing and over the next couple years threw myself into the art world. I taught after-school art classes, curated at Cafe International (Zahra you are a queen!) and eventually brought Art Battle to San Francisco. In the beginning, I had to transition from dry medium to wet. You can’t paint a mural with soft pastel or pencil. Learning how to paint was rough, but I started to get the hang of it and I can now say with much gratitude and pride that I have been painting full-time for the last three and a half years.
What’s your most recent favorite project?
Gosh, my favorite projects are those in which I am painting for the public and I can get kids and passersbye involved. I can always tell when someone is curious and offering that invitation to paint is so much fun. Though it has been hard to do this with social distancing.
To answer your question, my favorite recent project was an impromptu abandoned billboard transformation with Joel Millikan. We eyed this tagged up billboard along the bike path in Mill Valley. This path follows Coyote Creek, the endpoint for all the water in the Coyote Creek watershed. As an act to honor the area’s namesake and remember that we share space with many animals, we turned the billboard into a coyote. We added wood legs and camouflaged the background to sort of make it disappear. ¡Viva el Coyote!
When did you start painting flowers, and where does your inspiration for your intense lighting come from?
I first started painting floral murals in November of 2019. Two commissions in a row fell in my lap that were both large scale flowers. I have always been a floral-phile and just finished herbalism school. Basically, I find it endlessly miraculous to witness a plant’s ultimate seductive display, luring creatures to it’s immobile sex organs. Those vibrant, silky, transparent petals just never get old. When I am walking around examining nature with all my senses, I really get in there and look closely, usually finding little beetles or mini-pools within the flowers. I just want to show people what I see, a closer examination.
“Those vibrant, silky, transparent petals just never get old”
HOW did you get to paint the legendary ‘most beautiful taco bell in the world’
Haha, oh boy, that was just a cold call. I didn’t even ask how the folks at Taco Bell found me. To be honest I was hesitant in taking this job. Fast food doesn’t align with my dreams of a sustainable, healthy food system for all. I went back and forth, but when I consulted with a few friends they really encouraged me to take the job, so I did.
That was a wild install. I had six days to paint two large walls. My six days were cut down to four because of construction delays. I ended up painting from 5 am to midnight for two of those days. I was delirious by the end of it.
Please explain what happened here:
Once upon a time I did a bunch of work at the Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco. They were my first client who wasn’t a neighbor or friend. This was truly a fake it until you make it moment. I had a meeting with the curator at the Museum of Ice Cream and told them I had a mural company, totally undercharged and got the job. I was so nervous about the three rooms I had to paint that I way over prepared for the project and ended up crushing it. Having them on my resume legitimized me in the eyes of future clients and was the ‘foot in the door’ gig I really needed at that time.
Are there any good ‘online’ galleries? Or art sites to get your art fix during shelter in place?
No. Just kidding. Yes, many, but I will only talk about three.
First, is Faultline Gallery out of Oakland. They recently had the 10xTen show featuring 100 female artists around the Bay Area, including myself. We had to paint on a 10×10 inch panel. Seeing all the work together was really inspiring and showed the diversity and talent of all the ladies holding it down in the Bay Area.
The second show that folks must check out is ‘Regreso de Discolandia’ at 111 Minna Gallery, curated by Wonderland SF. This is sort of a legacy show for SF that happens every year. Artists create their work on a vinyl album. This restriction draws some impressive creativity from the participants.
Favorite street art right now?
I am loving the work of Paint the Void. They are a lady-run nonprofit linking artists with boarded up storefronts. Transforming post-apocalyptic, boarded buildings into an outdoor, citywide gallery has delivered much needed joy to the folks living in the city.
Any SF artists you think are particularly outstanding right now?
Two artists I would love to give a shout out to are @timothyb_art and @wolfe_pack. They both have incredible use of color and storytelling. They have also done a lot of work around broadcasting the voices of African Americans. Please go enjoy their incredible work.
What’s coming up for you?
I am currently spending my days in the studio painting a 20 x 18 ft peony mural on four canvases. Assembling these 9 x 10 ft canvases was an ordeal. However, I got to use some power tools which is always satisfying.
Nathan Richard Phelps and I are working on a storefront called Never Open. It’ll be a womb for experimental installation art and a studio space. We’re also hoping to host events once it’s safe.
Lastly, it’s almost Spring! I am spending a lot of time preparing my garden so I can keep the inspiration flowing.