L.A. Muralist Bunnie Reiss Puts Final Touches On Detroit’s Downtown Synagogue

By Gus Burns MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Los-Angeles based muralist Bunnie Reiss is known worldwide for her public murals, a sort of simplistic, colorful, geometric folk art influenced by her Polish and Russian heritage.

MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

With blonde and silver hair spurting from the elastic straps of her Storm Trooper-style respirator, Los Angeles-based muralist Bunnie Reiss climbs a fire escape on the rear of Detroit's only downtown synagogue.

Her arms cradle more than nine Montana Gold spray paint cans that clank as she places them down one by one on a third-story, metal-grate landing.

She stands at the center of the immense artwork, her cans hissing paint in curved white lines and orange circles as she accents the public mural she's been working on up to 15 hours a day for the last eight days, including a day and a half she lost to storms and harsh winds.

"This one has been really fun, I've just had a great time here," Reiss says while sitting on the tailgate of a Dodge Durango SUV a Detroit friend loaned her. "I just love the people. I love the rhythm of the city, it's a good one, and it's full of people that are just excited about really simple things, like the weather being warm.

"I saw everybody sort of light up because all of the sudden it wasn't winter anymore. It's a really special time in the Midwest when that happens. It's awesome just to see everyone come alive. You guys are like bears."

There's a continuous stream of fans, members of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and curious onlookers, stopping by to take in the mural and say hello.

"I'll be down in a minute," she yells down to a pair of women who stop to take some cell phone pictures.

Reiss is known worldwide for her public murals, a sort of simplistic, colorful, geometric folk art influenced by her Polish and Russian heritage, according to her website. Her work incorporate images resembling abstract birds and plants.

Reiss' murals can be found on the brick walls of buildings in Los Angeles, Mexico, Italy, Paris, India, the Philippines, Detroit, New York, and her previous home, San Francisco -- just to name a few.

"What I think Detroit really offers is this beautiful architecture," Reiss says, "and I didn't want to just cover up everything, so I felt what would be a better option was to highlight the building.

"I just sprayed directly on the wall and it could have been disastrous ... and it went really, really smooth." Reiss described what little free time she had outside of the mural work as "quiet times," spent with her friends -- more like family, she says -- and their 4-year-old son in Midtown.

She found time to stop into the Bronx Bar for the burgers she loves and made a trip to Eastern Market for some street food.

"I just couldn't really party this trip," Reiss says.

On her final day of painting, she's taking it slow, enjoying the final hours in Detroit before heading back to Los Angeles, where she's been commissioned to paint a mural on the inside of the poolhouse owned by comedian Chris Hardwick and his wife, both of them art collectors.

While taking a break, Reiss holds up her phone to shares a new video by rapper Danny Glover, the Childish Gambino. She says it's been on her mind all morning.

"The song is called, 'This is America,'" Reiss explains. "This is like powerful. This is what I'm taking about with public art, if you can think about stuff, through your medium, speak about it, you know."

The video, shot in a vast warehouse, features a shirtless Glover dancing while committing random and shocking murders, a commentary, in part, on the nation's affinity for guns and its recent violence.

Reiss pauses the conversation to type a text with her paint-smudged fingers. She's choosing toppings for a corned beef sandwich a friend is picking up for her. Reiss goes with Thousand Island dressing.

Another message is sent to someone caring for her recently purchased 5-acre property in Joshua Tree, located in San Bernardino County, California, about a two-hour drive from her other home in Los Angeles.

She calls it her "quiet place," the west coast equivalent to an "Upstate New York" getaway for east coasters, a community with many musicians and artists.

"I have mulberry bushes out in the desert and I want to make sure they're getting watered," Reiss says, as the sound of jarring jackhammers fill the air. "They're blooming right now. I'm going to have berries when I get home.

"I'm going to make jam. I can't wait."

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