John Buonani ’72 is an artist, writer, musician, and deep thinker.
At seventy-one years old, John Buonani is just getting started on perhaps the most exciting phase of his life. The artist has been traveling the world in recent months, showing his artwork and making connections from New York to Rome. “I’m lucky. I get to travel and meet interesting people,” Buonani says of the whirlwind of shows and gallery exhibitions he’s been featured in over the past year or two, as interest in his expressive and colorful paintings has taken off.
A native of Meriden, Connecticut, Buonani says he “grew up in a jazz family. My father was a well-known jazz drummer and my uncle was a well-known saxophonist and piano player. It was always in my mind to be a creative person, and I dabbled in many things,” including music, writing, and the visual arts.
~ John Buonani ’72
Early on, he says, he wanted to be a photojournalist, but “I got cancer, so I never carried through with that.” Next up, he wanted to be a novelist, or maybe a political cartoonist. He also attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and took a crack at the family business as a jazz musician. But it didn’t really stick. “I was more interested in writing and artwork,” he says, which suited his introverted, stage-shy personality.
After his cancer went into remission, he picked up painting and something clicked. Today, he’s known around the world for his bright and expressive paintings. They span the gamut of subjects and styles, but some of the most recognizable of his works are dynamic, freewheeling images of faces. Many of these are produced quickly—some in less than ten minutes.
A self-taught artist and writer, Buonani describes his paintings as “avant-garde and contemporary,” and says his energetic bursts of creativity are a means of “cleansing the spirit and soul.” Though most are completed in short paroxysms, some take longer and can be quite draining of his energy reserves. A recent painting took twelve hours to complete. “I was in bed for three or four days after that,” he says, “because it was such intense concentration.” Such is the recovery from the creative experience, which he describes as “very much a cleansing and a release.”
His choices of media are sometimes unconventional: “I’ve used everything. Lipstick. Spray paint, which I enjoy very much; it’s looser and more expressive than everything else. I think the spray paint has really helped me become more expressive and looser. Acrylic markers, which are difficult because they drip a lot. And acrylic and oil paint.” He builds up color and form, layer by layer, on large canvases. All of these materials are potential means of expressing himself on canvas, and the vibrant, mixedup colors and Picasso-like imagery have earned him admirers from as far away as Dubai and Monaco. “I have a show coming up in October, the Monaco Yacht Show,” he says. “Prince Albert and a number of other celebrities will be there.”
Though his artwork often garners comparisons to Pablo Picasso’s recognizable renderings, he says the cubist master’s work isn’t exactly an influence. In fact, Buonani has purposely avoided learning too much about other artists. “I decided not to do that and be taught how to do it,” he says, “because then I wouldn’t be myself.”
In addition to his prolific output of paintings, Buonani has also penned seven self-published books, recently finished his eighth, and has already started the ninth. His writing style could be described as avant-garde, philosophical, stream-of-consciousness. Or perhaps it’s more succinctly described as the verbal version of a jazz improvisation committed to paper.
In all things, an obligation to his inner-muse and artistic spirit takes top priority. He has strong roots in Connecticut, and keeps returning to Meriden, but is currently considering a move to a “sunshine state,” such as Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, or Colorado. He’s in search of the best light with which to illuminate his art.
A 1972 graduate of AIC, Buonani studied psychology and remembers his time in Springfield fondly. “We were like a family there,” he recalls. “I made a lot of friendships with professors and students.” Although it was a while ago, Buonani says his AIC education helped form the basis of his work now: “AIC helped me learn how to think between the lines and how to work hard and observe things. It taught me to be a thinker and never take things for granted. It also gave me discipline, which has helped with my art and writing.”
By Elaine K.. Howley :: photos by Leon Nguyen ’16