From a distance, the bunny looks ordinary. But a closer look reveals that it is actually some sort of human cartoon dressed in a bunny outfit. More often than not, you might see this little caricature holding up a stick with a white sign emblazoned with a black smiley face. It seems the bunny smiles at you, but it really only wears a mask.

Las Vegas-based Juan Muniz named his bunny Felipe, after his little brother who died at birth when Muniz was eight years old.

Muniz began his art career creating small works as well as larger murals for places like Vegas casinos. Felipe the bunny — which visitors can now see on the walls of Flower Pepper Gallery in Pasadena — didn't come into Muniz's work until some gentle prodding from a fellow artist.

“An artist I admire in Vegas took me out to lunch and told me 'I like your stuff, it's nice, but I can't remember anything when I leave your show,'” says Muniz. “It hurt me a little but I thought you know what, he's right.”

Muniz initially asked fans for name suggestions but he eventually settled on the his deceased little brother's name.

“When he passed away, I remember going outside and seeing the North Star and thinking that was my brother,” says Muniz. “When I got in trouble and my mother yelled at me I would go outside and cry and share what happened with my little brother. When I hit my teenage years, I stopped talking to my little brother and I became more angry and mad at the world.” Felipe the bunny served as an outlet for these feelings.

Juan Muniz's The Things You Love Will Make You Bleed; Credit: Eva Recinos

Juan Muniz's The Things You Love Will Make You Bleed; Credit: Eva Recinos

Muniz's current “Exit Down the Rabbit Hole” is his first solo L.A. show — he's previously had work in group shows at La Luz de Jesus and WWA. Perched on a commercial street in Pasadena, Flower Pepper Gallery is a still-evolving space that houses books, trinkets (pillows with the faces of dogs, clever mugs, adorable Totoro aprons), greeting cards and art in the pop surrealist vein.

In the exhibit, Felipe's adventures come to life mainly through masonite and canvas, with one piece made of plexiglass, Muniz's medium of choice. Felipe stars in many small scenarios, ranging from humorous to gory.The pieces communicate everything from the sting of disappointment to an overflow of emotion.

The small white signs on a stick are a repeated feature of the works. A particular piece shows Felipe looking down at a number of white signs, one showing the familiar smiley face, another marked with characters strung together like a curse word. He seems to ponder which sign to choose for the day.

“All my paintings come from such a personal place,” says Muniz. “I didn't think people were going to understand the pieces.”

But more and more people began to relate to Felipe, he says, as many viewers began “projecting their own feelings against it.” Felipe's not such an ordinary bunny after all.

“Exit Down the Rabbit Hole” runs until July 12. Flower Pepper Gallery is located at 121 East Union St., Pasadena.

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