Artist facts: JR
This week I have chosen to discuss an an artist who has an immense sense of humor, sense of poetry and a strong philosophy about how art can change the world. JR is a french photographer, street artist, and video /cinematographer who engages in large public installations of black and white photographs that engage people on the street and change their awareness of beauty, fairness and humanity.
He goes by the initials JR and wishes to remain anonymous in the same manner as Banksy another street artist does. He always appears wearing a trilby and sunglasses, often jumping in the air, full of grace and nervous energy. He has a very strong Instagram following on his site jr with over 1.1 million followers and 3,690 posts. Many of the pictures I am using on this post come from his site.
JR’s most powerful pieces artistically are those where he posts -as in glues -massive portraits of people’s faces or eyes onto buildings, rooftops, bridges., trucks, sails, trains, the French National Assembly, the Pantheon…. He brings art to improbable places, places where there are few or no museums, creating projects that force a discussion and communication within the community where the works are installed and then further as the images are disseminated to the world. The city is his canvas, the people within the poorer parts of the city his subjects.
As he discusses the evolution of his art, he says that at first, in Paris, as a street artist he was making the art as a statement of his existence, his mark on the world. Now it is a statement that the people he photographs exist and must be seen. His work goes against the idea of advertisements. The people are not glossy models, there are no logos, there is in fact no writing whatsoever on the pieces, not even a signature, often the subjects are making wry or funny faces. In the places where he initially makes and pastes his works there is a hunger for culture and the art he brings belongs to and unites the people on the street. As he needs help to paste the works, curiosity motivates people to enter the project. Each image has a story.
While the works are usually made of paper, when he has pasted the works on roofs he has used vinyl which provide protection from the elements, making art useful in a more practical way. The works travel the world, reinstalled in various museums but also outside on other buildings, the stories behind the images continuing to be told. He makes a film to document each project and publishes books and lithographs of the images to raise money for further projects . Below I have set out a few of his projects:
Portraits of a Generation- 2004-2008 Portraits of young people, primarily men from the housing project of Paris.
Women are Heroes- 2008- To JR, women are the pillars of the community but men, usually own the streets. In this project which started in the favelas of Rio, he pays tribute to women who are often the victims and the weakest protagonists in areas of poverty and conflict. These women have asked him to make their stories travel with him and he has used these images on many buildings and even on the sail of a boat in honoring that wish.
Face2Face- 2007 Portraits of Israelis and Palestinians who do the same job facing each other, originally pasted on both sides of the wall, asking the viewer if they can distinguish one from another.
The ideas for the works often come from media news. The works are often put up illegally or rather without full authorization, in a grey area. They are not meant to be permanent. As he travels and goes back to the initial sites of the work he is often surprised to see what works have withstood the test of time. Many of his projects have been made in the slums or in poor countries. Africa, Sudan, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Kenya, India to name a few. He tells a a funny story of it being prohibited to paste images in India, so he pasted up white pieces of paper, which had a sticky part to them and as the dust of the Indian streets rose up, the eyes and faces on the canvases appeared.
After winning the Ted prize in 2011, JR asked the question, “could art change the world? “and challenged the viewers to ” stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project and together to turn the world inside out? ” Inside Out” is an ongoing and politically charged project that rapidly became a platform for protest and change, giving people a voice, a face, a way of turning a selfie into a tool for democracy. Mobile photo booths go around and allow participants to have their picture taken and immediately receive their portraits. Otherwise you can take a picture and send it for development.
Over time some of his projects have evolved to include photographs made by others, photographs of other artists, athletes and dancers. Still in black and white, these works continue to shape the discourse with the viewer on the individuality and dignity of each person. Several of these projects, among them : “The Ghost of Ellis Island “, “Migrants Projects” and ‘Walking New York” were all set in New York where he has a studio.
The” Wrinkles of the City” is another stunning, shocking series where he photographed the elderly who are the living memory of a city- in Shanghai, Los Angeles, Havana among other cities. Many of these works were pasted on houses about to be demolished, a reflection on the economic upheaval and the social changes that these people had born witness to.
Baby over the bridge at the Mexican US border in Tecate is his most recent work, bringing dignity and humor to the discussion about building a wall.
Some of the works are more site specific. At the Olympic Games in Brazil he canvassed images onto construction scaffolding. The backstory here is also interesting. The high jumper from Sudan honored actually did not make it to the games because he missed the qualifying rounds due to an injury but JR brought him to the games anyhow.
And in Paris he hid the pyramid of the Louvre, using the old tactic of troupe l’ceil.
In all of his works the humanity and individuality of the subjects come through as well as the sense of humor and of concern with the world of the artist.
His latest film was made with Agnes Varda “Faces and Places” and is just coming out in the States.
His lithographs and books are sold on http://www.social-animals.net and his galleries are: