Paul Bruner was born in 1941, in Corydon, Indiana. He graduated from high school there and received his B.S. degree from Indiana University in 1963. In the summer of 1964 he began his M.F.A. degree study at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York. In September 1964 he became a graphic artist-in-residence for the United States Information Agency’s exhibit, Graphic Arts USA, traveling to Romania, then on to Poland for four months in 1965. In traveling to six different cities in Eastern Europe, Paul became experienced with the concept of installation. While in Poland, he visited the Auschwitz Museum, and realized it also an installation. Two years later, in Corydon, Indiana, he realized that installation of deepest feeling needed poetry to personalize a sense of place.
This realization is visibly evident in his 1967 artist’s book project based on Tadeusz Różewicz’s 1954 holocaust era poem, "The Plains."
In 1966, Paul was a staff production artist at Push Pin Studio, working with Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast. In 1967 he returned to finish his M.F.A. degree at Pratt Institute, graduating in 1968. He did freelance bookcover design and taught art at the Englewood School for Boys, in Englewood, New Jersey, until 1970.
In 1971, while an adjunct instructor at Finch College, Paul met Bill Creston, a video instructor at the School of Visual Arts. In the summer, Paul and Bill drove to Corydon, staying for a week in Indiana. At odd times, Bill Creston using his portapak video camcorder recorded informal discussions between Paul, his sister Violet Windell, and their father, the Reverend Emory Bruner. Paul’s father had remarried just a few months before and was now living in Florida. Creston’s edited videotape, “The Indiana Tapes,” was shown at The Kitchen in 1971. It was Paul’s first sense of performance—and performance with his father. Thirty-three years later, in 2003, Paul’s video performance poem, “Won’t It Be Wonderful There,” becomes the cornerstone of his installation, video and performance poetry.
From 1972 through 1975 Paul was an art director for Diener-Hauser-Greenthal, directing print campaigns for Hollywood movie advertising. Agency clients included Paramount Pictures, Twentieth-Century Fox, Universal, United Artists, etc. In 1975, Paul was the agency’s art director for The American Film Theatre’s second season of “movie plays.” This gave Paul the idea for his 2003 movie-poem, “Won’t It Be Wonderful There.” During this time Paul also did occasional freelance for The New York Times, such as his three-dimensional illustration (sculpture) for Clark McCauley’s NY Times November 3, 1974, op-ed article, “Dial M for Mass Transit.” Paul’s illustration uses a plaster hand. This hand is central to Paul’s father-love installation poems: in 2001, his poem, “I, Corydon” (The Soul’s Four Hands); in his 2002 poem, “Eternal Man”; and in his 2003 video poem, as the hand of God, “Won’t It Be Wonderful There.” The actual NY Times article with Paul’s illustration is used 30 years later in his 2004 graphic poem, “Presidential Penises…Pregnant Chads” (Marilyn and Monica…Bush or Gore?).
In 1976 and 1977 Paul worked for Loews Corporation, first as Corporate Art Director and then as Director of Advertising for Loews Hotels. In 1976 Paul also did a Filene’s shopping bag, The Spirit of ’76, celebrating the American Bicentennial for the Boston retail store.
Paul finalized his career as a New York art director in mid 1978, when he became an associate art director for Avon Books. He directed Avon’s trade list and some of the mass-market romance paperbacks. His work with illustrators, photographers, and designers gave him a satisfaction in his performance as an art director working with other people’s ideas and cultural products. Paul, however, often uses his commercial work in his installation and video performance poems, as noted in regard to the plaster hand in the his 1974 NY Times op-ed work. He uses a video clip from the English rock group Queen, the concert-film, We Will Rock You, in his 2003 video poem, “Won’t It Be Wonderful There.” Paul did the freelance art direction for the Queen concert film, produced by Mobilevision, in 1984. Paul uses his 1980 freelance campaign for Alan Resnais’ film, Mon Oncle D’Amerique in his 2003 installation and performance poem, “Mapping Uncledaddy.”
From September 1979 to July 1, 2007, Paul was a visual arts professor at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He initially was responsible for teaching B.A. and B.F.A. graphic design students. Twenty-two (14 BFA, 8 BA) art and design alumni graduating from years 1980 through 1994, participated in Paul’s 1997 doctoral dissertation research. The research investigated artistic identity between artists and designers. Only one of the alumni, a BFA alumnus, a design director for a major national retailer, declared himself artist only. His identity as an artist, he said, originated in “passion.” Paul felt this was true of his own emerging sense of identity as an installation and performance poet. Paul was awarded his Ed.D. from the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers, in May 1999. From September 2000 on, Paul did an annual installation poem for the faculty exhibition in the Mason Gross Gallery.
In September 2000, Paul launched his first installation Homo Erectus, Y2M, B.P. [Before the Present] to the Last Priapus Y2K, and its poem, “John L. Doe.” In September 2001, Paul installed The Soul’s Four Hands and its poem, “I, Corydon.”
September 2002, Paul performed before his installation, The Eternal Man Triptych, and its three poems: “Everything You Are,” “O Abraham,” and “Eternal Man.” In September 2003, he again performed with his installation, Honor Guard on Poppy Day: Barefoot Naked with My Manhood’s Ghosts, and its two poems, “Cry Uncle” and “Mapping Uncledaddy.” In September 2004, Paul installed Eternity’s Door and its poem, “His Adam’s Apple, My Achilles’ Heel.”
In 2004, Paul also performed his second video poem, “The Father and I are One.”
In this short 3 minute poem, there is ritual nudity, like in his first video poem, “Won’t It Be Wonderful There.” Both video performance poems premiered October 7, 2007, at Mason Gross, in association with Paul’s installation art and poems at Rabbet Gallery, in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Relative to Paul’s installation and performance poetry at Rutgers, is Allan Kaprow’s legacy of performance art at Rutgers in the early 1960s. This legacy’s association with the international Fluxus group continued at Rutgers after Kaprow, left by faculty performance artists Geoff Hendricks and Raphael Ortiz. Since his coming to Rutgers in 1979, Paul has been inspired by Geoff and Raphael.