So imagine it’s a sunny day and you’re going for a nice stroll in Washington Square or Prospect Park and you come upon a six-foot-tall white rabbit in overalls standing at a fold-out table. Next to the rabbit is a young man with a shiny bald head and an even shinier smile. He’s got calendars, magnets and other merch for sale, all of it bunny-centric and full of an upbeat, live-your-best-most-positive-life vibe. The strangest and most powerful thing about it all is its complete sincerity. It’s sort of entrancing.
Imagine no more. This isn’t some Pooka dream, like the invisible, six-foot-tall rabbit that captivated Jimmy Stewart in the 1950 movie “Harvey.” Nope. This is Brooklyn artist and entrepreneur Herve Tennessee and his project “A Day In My Life With Bunnies.” A Boston native, Tennessee is smart and sweet, but make no mistake: his bunnies take no prisoners.
Although his TennCo Creatives brand also offers photography, event production (including bunny tea parties), custom design, and the TennesseeCurtis Dance Company, the bunnies take center stage as both product ambassadors and avatars of his brand of optimism and his embrace of diversity.
Raised in a religious home, Tennessee has created an identity and a world of his own and wants to share it with everyone. He refuses to be defined, declining to discuss his age or racial or ethic identity since he finds these concepts limiting. Tennessee doesn’t even like to define himself as gay or queer. He is who he is. He suggests you just get to know him as himself.
To me, Tennessee is a post-queer outsider artist, not unlike some hothouse exotic bloom that has its own unique look and fragrance. But that’s my old-school way of trying to find a convenient box to contain who he is and what he does, so delete the previous sentence in your head, please. Tennessee’s set-up in parks and other public venues is his way of hawking his stuff, but can also be appreciated — again, my terminology — as pop-up art installations. He is wary of what are perhaps over-delineated groups — the art world and the LGBTQ community included.
According to Tennessee’s webpage, adayinmylifewithbunnies.com, his whole bunny world tells the tale of “this boy who through his creative imagination escapes his human reality by living a different spectrum of life through a comic book that he found in his schoolyard. His new obsession with bunnies has helped him to cope with the hardships of human reality.”
In a recent interview, he offered some uniquely Tennessee responses to my curiosity about his work and philosophy of life.
CHRISTOPEHR MURRAY: Where did your love for bunnies come from?
HERVE TENNESSEE: I don’t love bunnies. I don’t dislike them, either. I chose bunnies because it’s a cute, meek animal. It’s something that I just chose for no reason. Could have been a chicken, a fox, or an ogre.
MURRAY: How did “A Day In My Life With Bunnies” come into being?
TENNESSEE: Most artists can tell you that ideas come into their heads after midnight when they’re not able to sleep. We get creative around these hours. I had the idea and went with it.
MURRAY: How do you develop your items? Your illustrations?
TENNESSEE: As a creative person, it doesn’t take much to come up with concepts. When things come into my heart and mind, I stay true to them and make it happen. One of the reasons I do this is to inspire others to do what inspires them.
MURRAY: What makes it hard trying to build an artistic business?
TENNESSEE: Starting at the age of 12, I’ve learned to never use the words hard or try. Nothing is hard, though things may be challenging. I can never try, I can only do what I seek out to do. It’s all perception. Challenges may include raising money to create more art and finding the spaces to display that art for viewing.
MURRAY: You’re really big on kindness and self-esteem. Why are those things so important to you?
TENNESSEE: Self-esteem, courage, strength, confidence are all important because without one the others cease to exist. We all seek out acceptance and kindness; without it we destroy each other. With all the world’s turmoil, kindness has been the thread that has held humanity together.
MURRAY: Do you identify as queer or gay?
TENNESSEE: I do my best not to put myself or anyone in a box. Actually do not identify as to my sexuality, race, career, social status, or Zodiac. I identify by my character and how I treat others.
MURRAY: Do you find Brooklyn to be a good and receptive place for an artist to live?
TENNESSEE: Yes. Very much. Brooklyn is my favorite borough. Though I would love to live on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. And other places for the arts.
MURRAY: What are the difficulties in being an artist of color? Is it harder still being a queer artist of color?
TENNESSEE: The only difficult thing is answering this question. LOL. Since I do not identify by my skin color or by my sexuality, I mold into society very easily. I do not recognize any difficulties. Again, challenges maybe, which help me grow. Regardless of people sometimes making my life difficult, I live in the present. I do not question the why of this, or say, “Why me?” I smile, give gratitude, and laugh in the face of difficulties. Nothing tangible in this world can shake my spirit.
MURRAY: If anything could happen in the next year for you, what would be wonderful?
TENNESSEE: My wonderful supportive friends have convinced me to show my art to the world. I have no attachment to any outcomes. Since I have a wonderful message to tell the world, if they welcome it, then so be it. It would be wonderful that I continue to be: Love. Peace. Zen.