For the second time here at Widewalls, we choose to pass the Artist of the Week title to the amazing JR. In short, he is one of those artists whose work strongly contributes to an impression that street art is a virtuous profession, and not vandalism as it used to be regarded in the past. Nonetheless, the French artist started out as any other young graffiti writer would, with an idea to leave his own mark on the walls of the streets and undergrounds. However, the streets eventually offered more than he had imagined at first, which helped JR take a leap into the unknown and start discovering the potential of public art that he hadn’t seen before. Just like he often poetically describes, the streets do, indeed, represent a large gallery to JR.
The style that we know JR for today was induced by an accidental event that happened when he was only 17 years old. The teenage artist found a camera on a subway and felt an urge to document his graffiti, which eventually led to a new passion. It didn’t take long for JR to start overlapping his love for street art with his newly discovered interest in photography, and finally the artist designated his recognizable signature style, which involves large paste-ups that represent his own photographs, cut out and specifically designed for particular public areas, covering or complementing certain elements of public spaces.
Inside Out and Beyond
One of the features that embodies the character of JR’s art is his attentiveness toward marginalized groups, the elderly, the homeless, the migrants or basically any other type of societal phenomena which seem to be invisible in communities worldwide. The artist aims to rebuild a relationship between those who see and those who should be seen, often deploying larger-than-life depictions of people. The photographs are usually taken by the artist himself, created with an endeavor to expose the true character of the world we’re living in by portraying those who truly make it that way – groups of people or individuals, humans that we usually regard as “ordinary” people. With this in mind, after a great success and recognition of his own projects crowned by a TED Award in 2011, JR started a global project called Inside Out which invited people from all over the world to participate. The idea was to help people express themselves in their own local communities through paste-ups in public spaces, and to eventually raise the awareness of the locals and to draw the attention to the issues that they find important. The project turned out to be a huge success, and it is still ongoing, pursuing JR’s genuine, somewhat guileless and brave wish to “change the world”.
JR at the Olympics in Rio – Games That Bring Us All Together
Naming just a few of the Paris-based artist’s works and projects would be impossible, since so many of them play big roles both in the development of his career, and the progress of street art and our perception of it. We have already discussed how the transition from graffiti drawing to photographic installation-making was important in many ways, and what is even more interesting, JR’s art is never an end in itself. He is constantly finding new ways to embody his ideas and to place them into the right context, discovering the best ways to interpret them. His latest project consists of two huge installations in Rio de Janeiro, completed as part of the Inside Out project, but executed in a completely fresh manner. Instead of pasting his photographs onto buildings or walls, JR decided to install his huge canvases across construction scaffolds, one of which is placed on top of a building, and the other one is facing the ocean. Having the spirit of the Olympic Games in mind, the fact that JR is currently in Rio, working and collaborating with the locals on his Inside Out project, does not come as a surprise. The imagery supported by the scaffolds responds adequately to both of the locations – a high-jumping athlete is displayed on the roof of the building, and the construction adjacent to the ocean is used to exhibit the photograph of a diver, who appears to be captured in the moment of jumping into the water. The techniques that JR employs in these works border with optical illusion, which appears to be the subject that interests the artist lately. This interest has also been shown in his previous monumental project, in which he covered the Pyramid of Louvre with a photograph of the Louvre itself, making the pyramid “disappear” when seen from the front. This is not JR’s first time in Rio either – you might remember his “Women Are Heroes” project, which embellished the surfaces of Rio’s walls and stairs in 2008.