European 3D street artist brings painted illusions to Ybor in Tampa

“How many traffic accidents has your work caused?” I teased Leon Keer while admiring the progress he’s making on his latest project on the outside of The Basel House, a boutique real estate brokerage at 2604 East 7th Ave. in Ybor.
 
Internationally recognized for his dimensional trompe l’oeil murals that look as though you could walk right into them, his works are the type to stop you in your tracks -- and hopefully not create road blocks. Keer will be collaborating with street artists Massina (his wife) and IVES.ONE on this particular wall.
 
“Murals build a sense of community. They make it welcoming, walkable, and someplace people want to go. We hope that other businesses around here will see what we’re doing and embrace it. As you see new development through the area with apartments and condos, we hope they will incorporate artists in the process of curating the exterior walls or the lobbies,” says Grant Vreeland, co-founder of Basel House.
 
Keer has created murals all around the world from Dubai to Australia, but most recently was selected to complete a piece at Wynwood Walls in Miami before Art Basel kicked off last weekend (and it’s gloriously abound with references to selfies and the overall Miami lifestyle).
 
Vreeland met IVES a few years ago at Art Basel Miami, but this year the stars aligned to make their project happen. IVES was already plotting to work on the Ybor mural, but with Keer already in Florida in early November to work his Wynwood piece, IVES reached out to him to see if he wanted to collaborate.
 
“There’s a temporary aspect to street art that strengthens its existence: You have to appreciate it here and now. When I lived near Wynwood, I would drive the long way to my coffee shop because there were a few murals that I loved going by everyday. It was my visual inspiration. Sometimes, I would park my scooter and just sit there and appreciate the work because life is always going a million miles an hour,” Vreeland says.

Finding the back-story
 
To bring a bit of Wynwood to Ybor, Keer’s narrative mural involves a LEGO farmer dousing tomatoes with fertilizer, making one of them humorously gigantic. The artist uses light-heartedness as a way to cut the thought-provoking and biting social commentary. In this case, he references the sacrifices we make when we use fertilizers for producing crops when it comes down to its environmental impact with fertilizer-infused stormwater getting into our oceans.
 
“The Tampa region is known for mining phosphate, which is the main ingredient in making fertilizer. It’s a kind of ironic piece in that way because you can think about what phosphate mining brings to the people -- like bigger, nicer vegetables - -but it also brings wastewater that kills animals. There’s always a back-story behind each story,” Keer says. “I don’t want to point the finger too much at anyone, which is why I use LEGO figures to make it more fun.”
 
For the mural, they start with a rough sketch, but all of the lines come to one perspective point to bring out the 3D effect on the wall. Facing the mural from a stop sign across from it, you’ll get the full effect of the 3D painting--which will be completed by Dec. 14th.
 
The mural as the champagne send-off for more projects to come
 
Unknown to many, The Basel House has been a platform for local artists to exhibit their work throughout the year in their building with 100 percent of the sale proceeds going directly to the artist.
 
“We want to play more of an active role in encouraging the ownership of works from local artists. Outside of what we do in real estate and mortgage, our simple motto here is be kind and be inclusive, and that’s what where we feel we’re authentic in what we do and how we want to be,” Vreeland says.
 
The Basel House plans to partner with Amsterdam Street Art, which is a collective of 400 street artists that work on projects around the world that was founded by IVES in 2010 in Amsterdam. They waver between representing artists and being an agency for commercial assignments and exhibitions, but will be assisting Basel House in curating the gallery space inside to focus on street art and contemporary works. But their plans go even further:
 
“We’re planning on having an artist-in-residence program and have even found a nice space nearby for it, which IVES is spearheading. We’re looking to have Amsterdam Street Art have more of a presence in Tampa and the metamorphosis of what is happening here,” Vreeland says.

Collaborating with local artists
 
Some of Amsterdam Street Art’s A-list artists will initiate the AIR program, where they will live and work in Tampa for 2-4 weeks to become part of the community and collaborate with the people that live here.
 
“The first couple of artist are going to be curated, but of course people can send in proposals. We always want to find a combination of locals, national artists and international artists. We want to make this project stronger and come with a boom; that’s how we like to do things,” IVES says.
 
IVES understands the sensitivity of solely bringing in international artists to town, which is why locals (artists or not) will be involved during each step. In the Spring, he even plans on putting on a workshop for teenagers by showing them different forms of street art from chalk to graffiti to anamorphic 3D murals.
 
“We want to let people enjoy their own streets and take care of it again, but we have to find what makes the project carry on, and that comes from the support of the people here,” IVES says.

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Read more articles by Caitlin Albritton.

Caitlin Albritton is a freelance writer based in Tampa with a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and a MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art. When she's not looking at art throughout town, she can be found making it. You can keep up with her visual art on Instagram @caitlinalbritton or on her website.
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