While Dutch pop-surrealist artist Leon Keer cut his teeth designing and producing giant advertising murals commissioned by the likes of Coca-Cola – not exactly the humblest of beginnings – the art he is best known for nowadays is on quite different level. Call us sheltered, but we’ve never seen 3D street art quite like it, so we decided to find out more before his appearance at Upfest…
The Bristol Magazine: First things first. How do you do it?!
Leon: Well, the first thing I do when I arrive at a possible location is check for the correct placement of the artwork because the sun, and possible shadows from buildings, trees and other objects, might either help or interfere with the 3D effect that I want to achieve. With most of my drawings, I take a piece of string and attach it to the viewpoint from where you can observe the painting at its best. I then use this as my guide for all the vertical lines in the painting.
What inspires you?
Pop art and surrealism. I also get my inspiration from the stories and memories I gather from travelling around the world. A simple passer-by could have a great story and that might spark an idea that’s then transformed into an artwork.
How did you get into this kind of art?
After designing and executing my advertising murals, I built up my experience working on many different surfaces and in ever-changing weather conditions, which taught me a lot about the best material to use for any specific artwork or conditions.
“…My art doesn’t directly point a finger at anyone but it can hopefully be seen as a spark that encourages others to think”
What do you think about the Bristol art scene?
I have seen a lot of great street art coming from Bristol. I can’t wait to visit and find out more about this vibrant city, and meet its artists.
We love that you use your art to talk about contemporary themes such as environmental issues – can you tell us a little more about this?
Yes, there are lots of global concerns that we should all care about. I try to focus on these as well as emphasising the more local concerns relating to us such as social disorder, environmental issues, the refugee crisis today and political mischief. My art doesn’t directly point a finger at anyone but it can hopefully be seen as a spark that encourages others to think differently. But it’s always accompanied by some humour as I believe the world is, in general, an awesome place.
What do you think about negative attitudes towards street art?
Every artist should get the opportunity to express themselves. Some art has more quality than other art, but you also have to take experience into account. Artists have to be able to practice their skills, otherwise how else would we have the opportunity to witness great street art pieces, years later? Thanks to the perseverance of lots of street artists, I am seeing more opportunities arise in every city and respect coming up from larger amounts of spectators.
What’s the most challenging part of your process?
Probably working together with other artists to create bigger paintings. The result, often quite outstanding, is a synergy of emotions and skills, built up by several minds blending together. It’s difficult to achieve but generates the most fulfilling memories.
How long does it take? What essentials do you take out on-site?
Four to five days, on average. The most important materials are string, tape, chalks for drawing the first sketch and then my own brushes!
What can we expect from you at Upfest?
I am working on my sketch now and over the coming weeks, and it will be a 3D street art piece on the ground somewhere, but that’s the only thing I can reveal for now!
Which Bristol artists do you admire?
I like the humoristic approach of Banksy’s art, underlining issues without expression of his own opinion.
‘It’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission’ – Banksy’s latest work at Bridge Farm Primary School
I would love to work with Mr. Ron English someday.
The street art scene has developed so much in the last few years – where do you see the movement in the next 10?
I think more cities will start hosting their own street art festivals each year. The public is embracing this art form already. As for me, I will try to keep surprising spectators with my illusionary street art – hopefully combining it with some new technology. Watch this space!
Upfest, Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival, takes places in Bristol from 23-25 July. For more information about the festival, visit upfest.co.uk, or for more on Leon, visit leonkeer.com