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Lee Bear: art, diversity and…foreskins

Lee Bear, owner, and creator for “Bear With Lee“, is a self-employed artist. Lee began creating prints before moving into zines and stickers, which led quite quickly to being commissioned.He agreed to answer some questions  about his art, his life and his views on the LGBTQ+ community.

What type of art do you create?

I create LGBTQ+ self-made publications and merch, relating to topics that affect us as a community. Topics you may feel alone with, views you might have a closed mindset on. I like to create conversation and get people questioning new views and insights.

Why did you start using Instagram to expose your Bear With Lee art?

I created the account in April of 2018. I had a personal account and decided I wanted to keep my art separate and show the pieces I was creating. I was always creating pieces but when I made the leap to drawing digitally, I felt I needed a visual platform where I could share it.

Could you describe what your art is representing?

My art is LGBTQ+ influenced and unapologetic. I keep a journal and write down things that grind my gears and then think of how I can create a project around that topic. I suppose, if I had to describe it simply, I’d say that “it’s designed to make you think, question and smile.”

Photo: Jaison 96 by Bear With Lee

You create a lot of nude pieces, what is the meaning of nudity to you? What does it represent?

Not always, but this year I guess I’d have to agree with you. I decided that I wanted to create a year-long project called “Bear Lee Exposed”, making a visual stand against the lack of diversity and equality with men in media. I felt frustrated and fed up of seeing slim, toned, smooth and tanned men with large bulges being seen as the poster gay for how men are supposed to look. Even if you look at what media tries to portray a ‘Bear’ as now, it’s a big, buff, hairy muscle guy, it doesn’t reflect reality or truth.

It pollutes the mind. I want to show men of all ages, backgrounds, sizes, shapes and visual appearance and give them the opportunity to be seen in a beautiful and positive way.

I noticed that one of your most liked pieces is your portrait of Miguel, who is he? Could you describe this piece to me and try to explain why you think this particular piece got so much attention?

Miguel is a Spanish model, who I met through a photographer friend Manuel Ortega. I’d seen his work and thought the images and Miguel were beautiful. So I contacted Miguel and asked him to take part. I can’t put into words how happy and smug it makes me that the most popular piece in the collection so far, is a beautiful man who happens to be an amputee in a wheelchair with a belly. I think people loved it so much because it was honest and made a statement without words.

Photo: Migue Hot Wheels by Bear With Lee

Why is your art focused on queer personalities? Do you feel like there should be more LGBTQ+ representation in the media?

Well I feel it’s important if we have a view and a platform to express who we are as a community, then why not. My work is 100% LGBTQ+ based, in my zines, my pieces for sale and my commissioned work. It’s the heart of Bear with Lee as a business. I began creating the zines through the frustration of not seeing what it was I exactly wanted to read and look at. So decided that I’d create different zines on topics that affect us all but from an LGBTQ+ point of view. I’ve covered body positivity, creativity, case of the ex, anonymous secrets, coming out stories and the body diversity project. Reading people’s stories from all different backgrounds is fascinating and beautiful to read, I’m genuinely proud of the work and the people that have taken part in my projects.

What is your favourite piece and why?

That’s like asking who your favourite child is!

I have a soft spot for my series of four mini zines, which consisted of four pieces of paper folded into mini fold-out books based on bellies, anuses, foreskin, and circumcision. I printed them at my old job to save on my own ink and paper and sold them cheap to get my work out there.

But also my new zine on coming out stories which took a lot of time to make but it’s such a brilliant piece with 15 people’s coming out stories and experiences, including Buck Angel and Tammie Brown

How do you create your art?

I love playing with 3D work, texture, photography, and paint, but for the most part I work digitally with my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil using Procreate. For a long time, I used an iPad mini and my finger and it just took so long to create something. I almost felt like I needed to learn how to draw again when I moved to digital as it’s so different to pen and paper.

Will you be exposing your art any time soon?

Once the body diversity project ‘Bear Lee Exposed’ is wrapped up I’d love to showcase my work in a space. But for now, my work can be seen on Instagram and also through my Etsy

Photo: Lee Bear
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