An Offering

“I always have a concrete idea, or a concept, or a story.”

(Toshio Hosokawa, composer)

I make art for myself—for my own survival.

I also want it to be an offering for you, the same way Toshio Hosokawa’s Landscape II became an offering for me.

I first heard the piece when I was in residence at Yellow Barn Music Festival in 2017. I was immediately struck by how its taut energy mirrored my daughter Elisif’s emotional journey over the last years of her life: her walk between serenity and chaos; between holding it together and not.

It inspired Hello, Is This Peter? (shown above, and on view in Grace).

I don’t want my art to be only about me. I want something of my art’s story to pass on to you, to resonate for you as Landscape II did for me, connecting us in shared humanity.

Landscape II became a gift to me only once I heard it, which is exactly why I have built my new Bruun Studios website: to offer my art in the same way.

On the site you can find two stories: Our Infinite Selves and A Communal Offering. In them I explore my inward and outward phases as an artist, my balancing between self and community. Together, the pieces convey a central paradox of being an artist: making art for myself as a necessary prerequisite to creating something for you.

I have no doubt Hosokawa composed Landscape II for his own reasons; once I heard it, I felt it had been made for me.

In the same way, my art is for me, and for you.


Elena Volkova

This month’s Cameo introduces Elena Volkova, a photographer who never set out to be a portraitist, but who found herself taking on an ambitious portrait project just the same. (A photograph of Peter by Elena illustrates Bruun Studios’ home page.)

For an artist who does not consider herself to be a portrait photographer, Elena Volkova is awfully good at it.

Elena’s lens is more often than not turned toward quiet interiors or intimate landscapes, her work exploring nuances of object and light. Rarely does she photograph people, and she almost never uses antiquated techniques.

Her tintype photographs defy both generalities of her practice, to tremendous effect.

Elena began making tintype portraits after co-curating Reflections: A Brief History of Looking at Ourselves, a 2019-2020 exhibition at the Maryland Center for History and Culture. While excavating thousands of never-exhibited photographic portraits in the museum’s collection, she became fascinated by the diversity of the archive.

“Just because photography books of the past have not represented certain people does not mean those images do not exist,” she says. “They do. The images that have been preserved and advanced from our past do not actually reflect the diversity of people photographed 150 years ago.”

Her experience with the museum kindled her idea of creating a modern tintype archive of people today: illuminating individuality, honoring differences, dignifying the way each person wants to be represented.

Looking at her subjects and how they are photographed (smiling or not; with modern embellishments or not), our perceptions flip back and forth from the 19th to the 21st century. Elena intentionally chose tintype for her project, in effect building a bridge between past and present: through the technique’s glaze we see individuals from today—people we feel we could meet—as little different from those of the early 19th century. A transposition happens in the mind: suddenly these relics from the past are more easily experienced not as black-and-white cartoon versions of historical figures, but as actually having been flesh-and-blood—as having once been real and alive.

(Images courtesy of the artist, Elena Volkova; all are wet plate collodions, 4″x5″ in size. Titles, photo locations, and dates clockwise from top left: Jill, Longmont, 2019; Rene, studio, 2020; Lawrence, Open Works, 2020; Ruth, MDHS, 2019; Zoë, studio, 2019; Charlotte, studio, 2020)

Not only does Elena’s humanizing eye allow us to see people today for who they are in all their glorious difference, but (using tintype) she provides a portal for seeing those from yesterday as equally human.

The space between all of us shrinks.

So much distress across the globe and throughout time has been the result of “othering”—seeing a fellow being as less than human; less than ourselves. Elena’s eye is a corrective to that. Open to her work, we in turn open ourselves to deeper empathy.

With Elena’s humanizing art as a model, we become more human ourselves.

Elena continues her tintype work this month with Anacostia Portraits, a community-based project in partnership with Anacostia Art Center and sponsored by sponsored by Corcoran Women’s Committee, with support from ARCH Development Corporation. You can learn more or support the project by visiting this link.


With loss, I’ve become more interested in love.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was the first art gallery I visited after Elisif died seven and a half years ago. I wandered the halls, taking in works from Medieval and Renaissance Europe, drawn not to their religiosity but their humanism: so many images of parent and child, Mary and Jesus, each foretelling or expressing the child’s death.

So much love; so much pain. I cried.

It took me to this long before I was ready to make art about that experience.

In spring 2021, I found myself searching the internet for works titled “Lamentation.” I found one by Sandro Botticelli, Lamentation over the Dead Christ with Saints. Painted some time between 1490 and 1495, it’s gorgeous, particularly the detailed area with one of the grieving holding Christ’s head. All cradling hand, bent head, and fluid textile folds, to me it’s a picture less of grief than of love.

Gentle singing. A lyric.

I made a drawing based on that passage.

I subsequently made five more drawings from other versions of The Lamentation, Andrea Mantegna and Fra Angelico infusing my studio with their expressive lines of loss and love.

Love above all.

Grief is a long journey, and that’s okay, for in its ongoing bend it takes on such welcome colors, as surprising and lovely as the dancing harmonies of a Botticelli.

I welcome that: I say hello. Hello, love.


July 2021

Reminder: Speaking of Grace I

On Thursday, July 15, 7pm ET, join Peter in conversation with artists Phylicia Ghee and Alexy Santos and musician Daniel Anastasio as they talk about their work in GraceBruun Studios’ inaugural online exhibition. Register here for this free online event.

This Can Be Yours

With each newsletter, we are now offering a work of art by Peter for just $50. This 11″x14″ drawing (go here for the back story to the drawing and to see a larger version of it), ordinarily priced at $300, will be yours if you are the first to email Peter to claim it. If you miss out on this and are interested in other works by Peter, visit the sales gallery at the Bruun Studios website.