The charismatic street artist JR has visited cities across the globe, from Rio de Janeiro to Phnom Penh, seeking through his photography and posters to give a face to the powerless ordinary person and to stand for their causes and communities.Read More
Beginning his artistic career as a teenage graffitist on the streets of Paris, JR by chance came upon an abandoned camera and began documenting his fellow underground artists. He pasted his photographs on city walls in 'sidewalk gallery' exhibitions.
JR's works typically involve pasting large-scale black-and-white photographs of ordinary individuals from different communities onto city walls, rooftops, or scaffolding structures.
While working on the series 'Portrait of a Generation' (2004–2006) the artist was inspired by footage of the 2005 French riots to paste photographs of individuals from Les Bosquets on the walls of Paris. The artist sought to rectify the unbalanced coverage and representation of the people of the riots.
The artist took his humanising cause overseas for the illegal exhibition Face 2 Face (2007) in Israel and Palestine. Pasting images of Israelis and Palestinians from the same professions making comic faces alongside each other, the artist sought to generate understanding that crossed divides.
After Face 2 Face, JR's practice grew to several simultaneous 'international' projects.
'Women Are Heroes' (2008–2009) began by acknowledging the women coping in the favelas of Brazil, and subsequently spread to cities worldwide. The project culminated in a final work covering the side of a large container ship that departed Le Havre for Malaysia.
Speaking at a TED Talk in 2011, JR proposed to 'turn the world inside out' with an international participatory art project empowering people to put up their own images and speak up about their own causes and experiences. Financed by a $100,000 TED Prize, the artist accordingly began the international participatory art project 'Inside Out' (2011–ongoing).
Departing from his focus on people's faces, in 2016 in collaboration with the Louvre, JR turned to architecture. He made I.M. Pei's iconic glass pyramid 'disappear' into the façade of the palace in the background using an historic photograph and then returned in 2019 with an abundance of volunteers, paste, and paper, to illusionistically extend the pyramid below ground into a false crater.
The artist's 'Giants' series (2016) for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro was another high-profile project in which huge photographs of unknown competing athletes were erected on scaffolding.
Not limited to the gigantic, JR has held solo exhibitions featuring smaller photographic and installation works in galleries across Europe, Asia, the United States, and Canada. He has also exhibited work in the Venice Biennale (2007), the Shanghai Biennale (2010), and the Havana Biennial (2019).
The artist also makes films utilising and documenting his work, including the Oscar-nominated documentary Faces Places (2017) directed by the late Agnès Varda, and the short film Ellis (2015), starring Robert De Niro.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022