For the most part the artist Bortusk Leer marshals his signature monsters as a force for good. Despite their psychopathically inclined expressions, these variously goggle-eyed, drippy gobbed, banana fingered, saveloy limbed creations elicit smiles rather than screams.
UK born, Amsterdam based, Leer’s euphoric, and mischievous imps first appeared circa 2007. Before that the artist had already been littering the streets with his ‘nu-rave pigeons’, “Mainly to take the piss out of Banksy’s rats!” Leer explained. Then the artist’s mum dug out some of his childhood drawings and the monster motif was born.
Armed with spray paint, marker pen and a manic craving to invent daft, enchanting critters: Leer’s first comedy art progeny appeared on canvas and newsprint. Those on newsprint quickly found their way onto the streets of the UK, Netherlands, USA, Italy, Argentina, Norway… In short, we’ve undergone a bit of an invasion. They’ve even been on the telly!
Crafted on top of front-page news, gurning in tandem with the day’s events as reported in The Sun or Telegraph, etc., Leer’s urban varmints point to broader societal ludicrousness. They imply a mocking attitude toward the constant stream of distractions offered up by our mainstream media and the urban spectacle.
In terms of his visual language Leer is inspired by many things but principally the CoBrA art movement – a 1948 avant-garde group whose semi-abstract work is characterised by brilliant colour, exuberant mark-making and distorted figures seen in folk and outsider art and it’s also at the forefront of European abstract expressionism – but there is a key social dimension to his output too.
Every so often he’s charged with naivety, to which the artists replies, “I’m not afraid of naivety, I’m afraid of cynicism.” His monsters regularly, helpfully hold up signs that read: ‘Is This The Sign You’re Looking For?’, ‘Keep Fucking Smiling’ or, straight to the point, ‘Don’t Be A Dick’.
UNCLE love the idea that ‘loudly and gamesomely’ (according to his own PR) Leer seeds the city with what boils down to monstrous and unruly tenderness. Two posters in our Amsterdam collaboration offer passers-by wellbeing advice along the lines of, ‘Cheer Up You Bastard’ and ‘Love Every Day’. The third print in the trio, again, sees another of our freakish friends – this one with four magenta pink teeth and an alarming underbite – pictured against a gaudy roiling sea of raucous pattern and myriad miniature, maniacal grins.
In an effort to counter a pervasive anger, disappointment, sadness and disillusionment that’s seemingly rife the world over, Leer sees it as his calling to brighten moods and spread joy. As we try to navigate the existential disaster that is climate crisis and despair at a political system apparently unfit to address deep-seated social ills along with local and global inequalities, then there’s the cost-of-living crisis and, oh yes, we’re promised that another pandemic is almost certainly on the cards… It’s it an eye-popping, heart-warming comfort to know Bortusk Leer’s monsters are on a mission to spread an anarchic joie-de-vivre that’s also contagious (but in a good way!).