Nora Bruhn is an artist based in San Francisco. She finds herself with one foot in the city and the other in the forests, deserts, and waterways of California. Her work became widely recognized after being one of the first artists to paint a mural on a boarded-up building at the chaotic beginning of the pandemic. This mural gave people hope, and the public’s feedback demonstrated how essential art really is. She paints large-scale florals cast in dramatic lighting. She emphasizes the diversity in texture, transparency, and contour of flower petals. She labors over color and represents every hue she finds. Her composition accentuates the most compelling aspects of the flowers, offering viewers a captivating and immersive experience.
Her close examination of the botanical world sprouted from her rural Minnesotan childhood. Her sweetest and earliest memories are of walking through the family’s endless tall grass prairie that her parents seeded by hand. Her interest in the outdoors would inspire her to get a B.S. in Biology, study herbalism, and become a self-taught artist.
Once in San Francisco, she fell in love with murals. “There is nothing quite like the alchemy of taking a mundane and characterless wall and transforming it into something spectacular.” Says Nora. In 2015, she dove into the San Francisco art scene and, within three years, was painting professionally full-time. In those three years, she painted many canvases and 60 murals around the United States and Europe and won two painting competitions and an art residency at Takt Art Artist Residency, Berlin, Germany.
She now runs a community art studio in San Francisco called the Nest and has taken to painting canvases as well. She works with acrylic paint and soft pastel. She states, “my North Star is to remind people through my art that the exquisite, life-affirming beauty of nature is always available, all one must do is look.”
What am I trying to say with my art? I guess I should start with, what is the role of the artist? For me, a muralist, I view my role as the decision maker, the one who decides what story gets amplified. What piece of life do I find important enough so as to spend hours creating something beyond myself; the devotional act of art making. I think living a good life while I’m here in this body and helping others do the same is invaluable. One obstacle that stands in the way of a good life is getting overly obsessed and focused on “the small stuff”. Let’s call it what it is, losing perspective.
A trick that can dissolve said loss of perspective is to pause and notice the light. Let’s get curious about the way the power lines cast shadows on the building, the topography of my skin, my friend’s backlit yarrow hair. Not only does this practice put me in the present moment, it also inspires incredible appreciation for life’s crushing beauty. Then, I see my life like a map on a screen and I zoom out. Keep zooming out. Wait, there’s a distant star casting all this light and creating the beauty I am currently absorbed in? This perspective immediately puts me in my place, and I become grounded in the fact that I am a living, breathing, loving, squirming creature made of ancient matter, connected to everything, yet independent. I am tiny, and I am huge. The duality of it all is stunning; life affirming. And I got to this moment of deep perspective by just witnessing the light.
The light connects me to the sky, connects me to the stars, to something much bigger than myself. I revel in this big galactic hug and then move forward with my day. So let’s go back to the art; if my ability to witness the miracle of light helps me to slow down and enjoy my life then my role as an artist is to depict light. My favorite medium to witness the sun’s energy through is the botanical world; in evolutionary terms, our older siblings. Nothing captures light and color quite like a flower.