Murals are perhaps the most public of public art, available to anyone who happens to be walking by. Creating murals is pretty public, too. L.A. artist Bunnie Reiss was in Carbondale last week to paint a forty-five-foot-tall wall on the side of Batch above the Third Street Plaza.
Since Reiss’ canvas is a towering wall, her studio is a hydraulic lift. It shuttles her up and down and side to side as she paints a forty-foot-tall deer, surrounded by purple columbines and other native Colorado flowers.
Hovering above the ground isn’t the only part of her job that requires a little bravery. She says, when you create art in front of everyone, you'd better be ready to get feedback.
"People walk by and they’re like, 'That looks like a llama with antlers.' People have so many opinions," she laughed.
But she says opening herself up is part of being a muralist.
"I mean, when it really comes down to it isn’t that what life is about?" she said.
Reiss has been painting murals for twenty years. She got her start in San Francisco, which was a hotbed for murals in the late nineties.
"All of our studios were really small, and I always wanted to paint really big. So I started painting on the street," she said.
Now, she paints almost a mural a month. It’s her dream job, but it can be grueling. When she’s painting, she’s on her feet for thirteen or fourteen hours a day. She has to eat right and stretch.
“It’s like running a marathon. You’re tired afterwards,” she said.
Reiss says everything she does starts with a sketch. Then, she usually does a line drawing on the building. For this one in Carbondale, she had to project the image onto the wall to save time.
Then, she starts working her way through hundreds of cans of spray paint.
She often spends her day so close to the wall that she doesn’t know exactly what the whole thing looks like.
"I don’t really know what’s going on when I’m up there," she said.
When she finishes a project, she says she's often proud of helping to transform a public space.
"When you put a mural or a sculpture or a piece of public art in any kind of community, you immediately show that you’re investing in that community," she said.
Amy Kimberly agrees. She’s the executive director of Carbondale Arts, which brought Reiss to town for this mural. The organization looks at how to create vibrant places that get people involved with art. Reiss’ mural is part of a Carbondale Arts initiative to bring more of them to town.
"We definitely know some walls that people would like to see murals on," said Kimberly.
She says they’ve always been a way to mark special spaces where people gather.
"Murals have been part of humanity, really almost since the beginning. Look at the writings that we find on cave walls," she said.
Alena Harder, visiting from Calgary, stopped to watch the Carbondale mural take shape with her son. Harder says she’s always happy to see big public art.
"It says that the place prioritizes beauty," she said.
Bunnie Reiss agrees. She says there’s power in art that’s available to everyone.
"People can change their minds or their attitudes or their behaviors for the day just by seeing something that makes them feel good," she said.
That’s one reason why her work can be found on the walls of buildings, not galleries.