Joe Ledbetter’s Mr. Bunny

When IKEA turned their attention to sculptural works for their fourth annual Art Event collection, they mostly approached contemporary artists with a background in designer toys to contribute. And, as such, it was no surprise that one of the eight pieces ultimately produced was a new rendition of Mr. Bunny, the angular and cartoonish rabbit form having become iconic through countless paintings and designer toy pieces. Even Mr. Bunny‘s creator, Joe Ledbetter, recognizes it as his “signature character”.

A Brief History of Mr. Bunny

Mr. Bunny first appeared in [my] paintings in 2002″, Ledbetter recalls, which was only one year after the artist had graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Sociology, choosing to abstain from his field of collegiate study in order to pursue an art career. “I was exhibiting paintings in galleries throughout Los Angeles, in places like Cannibal Flower, Gallery1988, and Copro/Nason Gallery“, says Ledbetter, but it was due to the popularity of his Mr. Bunny paintings that he was able to become a full-time artist by the summer of 2004. And, “when I met some folks in the designer toy world”, Ledbetter remembers, “Mr. Bunny was an obvious choice to bring to toy form”, the character debuting as a limited edition vinyl sculpture in September of 2005 and frequently revisited ever since.

Visually influenced by the bold lines and vibrant colors of classic animation, the character was often imbued with social and political commentary, such as when “America began dropping bombs on Iraq, I used my artwork to reflect my anger and frustration by painting bombs dropping on sweet innocent bunnies”, Ledbetter quips. “Juxtaposing violence with cuteness is a very effective way to illustrate a point and get peoples’ attention”, the artist elaborates, also noting that “an animal character is much more universal and effective to use than a human because everybody can project themselves onto a cute animal”. But there is one other aspect to Mr. Bunny: his autobiographical nature. “He’s been a stand-in for myself, expressing heartbreak, loneliness, regret, anger, jealousy, identity, absurdity, and all kinds of powerful emotions that have moved me to paint”, Ledbetter admits, before clarifying that “the work has never been about me, and always been about all of us”.

IKEA Art Event 2018: Joe Ledbetter’s Mr. Bunny

With the final piece reminiscent of the initial designer toy form of Mr. Bunny, this “wasn’t the first design I attempted for this project”, Ledbetter states, “I had three or four different concepts”. But as the IKEA Art Event 2018 provided the opportunity for Ledbetter’s aesthetic to “reach a lot of new people around the world”, he says, it was “a smart choice to use a character that represents my work the most, so Mr. Bunny really fit the bill”. That said, this “Mr. Bunny figure is different than previous Mr. Bunny toys”, Ledbetter remarks, as “the restrictions of working with glass” required an entirely new sculpt to be created. With these limited edition glass figures “produced in a divisible mold, meaning red-hot molten glass poured into a cavity shaped as Mr. Bunny“, the artist explains, this meant it had to be “one solid piece with zero tolerance for undercuts”. Furthermore, this glass rendition required all the character’s detailing to be realized sculpturally, for even “though the glass factory has the capability to create spray masks” to paint the details, Ledbetter explains, “not at the level of fine detail that would be required for this figure”. To execute this challenging interpretation, Ledbetter enlisted Dave Bondi, the sculptor of the original Mr. Bunny designer toy as well as several of the artist’s other forms. And, as Ledbetter notes, “having [all] the features sculpted really brings a nice dimension to the piece because it catches the light in interesting ways”. Using sandblasted matte areas to contrast against the main piece’s glossy glass finish, Ledbetter had traveled to the Målerås Glassworks factory to oversee this aspect as well as the final color choice. “We actually made versions in yellow, blue, green, and pink”, he explains, but the pink coloration ultimately “stood out as the strongest and really held the light better than the other choices”.

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