Behind the Rabbit Suit

A chat with artist Juan Muniz about his new show, his artistic collaborations and that captivating bunny character

Las Vegas-based Juan Muniz is a creative triple threat. He’s a tattoo artist, animator and fine artist. But you might not know it by just hanging around Las Vegas. Muniz rarely shows his work in local galleries; he enjoys more success selling it in Los Angeles. Despite his California focus, Muniz, 28, still manages to touch every cultural corner of Las Vegas—from the murals on the outside of Artifice to Slidin’ Thru’s T-shirt designs to InsertCoin(s)’ interior art. Vegas Seven sat down with Muniz at the Brett Wesley Gallery, where he shares wall space with renowned L.A. pop surrealist Luke Chueh for a two-man show called The Primrose Path.

Dabbling in art as a kid is what got you to this point, right?

Definitely. I always had a strong interest in art, was always drawing in school and getting in trouble for doing it. My favorite thing in the world was watching Saturday-morning cartoons, which is how I learned English. I moved to Vegas in ’98 and after high school went to Collins College in Arizona to study animation. I moved back for a graphic-design degree at the Art Institute of Las Vegas. This is my home. I’ve got so much to do here in the next few months—I’m opening a new tattoo shop [Redemption Tattoo Family] Feb. 24; publishing an art book [a career retrospective/coloring book called Outside the Lines] in July; and I’ve only just been contacted to do a reality TV series [which is still too amorphous to discuss].

How did you meet and become a collaborator with Chueh?

Just e-mailed him is all. We met up at an art show in Anaheim [Calif.] and became mutual fans of each other’s work. He took me under his wing and brought me to the attention of galleries in L.A. Eventually I asked him, “Hey, wanna do a show in Vegas?” He’s freakin’ out, because he loves this place and is a total foodie.

You had some great mentors in Las Vegas, too?

Yeah, [Downtown Arts District mainstay and underground-art guru] Danny Roberts, an amazing artist. Before I met him, I was doing well, making 50 paintings on glass and selling out in a few hours at First Friday. But Danny suggested I stick with one recurring character throughout my work. He insisted it would make my painting more personal, more emotional, and he was right.

That recurring character is Felipe, the bunny?

Felipe is named after my little brother, who died at birth. The character is neither male nor female and is not a rabbit. That’s a rabbit suit and mask the character wears. Felipe is a versatile icon, a trickster. Sometimes he’s happy; other times he’s sad. The mask is symbolic, a blank stare that shows no emotion and yet shows every emotion that humans feel. On another level, it’s basically me in a bunny suit.

What event prompted Felipe’s creation?

One day my dog died, and I had to go to work at Vince Neil’s tattoo shop. Even though I was sad, I knew nobody wanted to hear about my dead dog. All day I felt like I was wearing a mask. We’re all in the bunny suit, I think, which is why Felipe gets such a great response. People e-mail me all the time saying, “We want your bunny!” Despite being rendered simply, he covers the whole range of human emotion and elicits a deep response.

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