Everybody knows him… without really knowing him. JR. Two letters and that’s all we know from this French artist of 34 years old. The now famous street artist likes to keep his anonimity with his iconic sunglasses and hat.
“The fact that I stay anonymous means I can exhibit wherever I want. No one knows my name, so it’s easy for me to travel. » (The Guardian, 2010).
JR through his projects
Starting by pasting his photographs in the Parisian streets in 2001, JR was more seen as an underground artist than a proper one, as most of the street artists.
Since his debuts, JR has always been an art(iv)ist : a rich blend of an artist and and activist. Street art is mostly here to awake consciences, being directly in contact with people without any distinction. And this, JR understood it pretty well.
His first project in 2006 called Portraits of a Generation was a series of portraits of suburban young people also called ‘thugs’ pasted in the sophisticated districts of Paris. A first wink and provocation for the artist, who knows how to bring two opposite entities face to face.
In 2007, JR saw a bigger picture by creating Face 2 Face : immense portraits of Israelis and Palestinians were facing each other in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities. Such a symbol and the biggest illegal exhibition ever.
Then from 2008 to 2010, JR brought his Women Are Heroes project, one of his most famous ones, enhancing the target role of women in conflicts, often forgotten. This project became a movie presented at the Cannes Film Festival.
For the first time, JR initiated an international participatory project in 2011 called Inside Out. People from all over the world could get their picture taken and paste it. Result : over 320,000 people from more than 139 countries have participated. JR erases the borders through his art, which has such a political meaning.
The French artist also collaborated with famous names such as Robert deNiro for his project and short movie Ellis, telling the story of Ellis Island and its immigration history.
More recently, JR made a movie called ‘Visages Villages’ with Nouvelle Vague and iconic French director Agnès Varda, critically acclaimed, telling the story of these two artists ; how they first met, what links their work, the evolution of their friendship ; through encounters and common projects.
JR’s latest project is maybe the most political. Last September, the artist has made the crazy bet to realise an installation on the Mexican-American border. A huge picture of a child was placed over the barrier, almost gripping it with his hands.
In a geopolitical issue context of US President Trump building a barrier on this border to separate the two countries, an artistic project has never been so concrete and risky.
Art is a tool to question the world.(JR on the Louvre Museum website).
JR placed this project in Tecate and collabored for three months with artists from the city and the neighbour town of Tijuana. Autorities didn’t allow to place the picture on the American metallic fence so JR did one of his tricks. He decided to ask the family who owned the land to put his immense picture. In fact, the little one-year-old curious boy overhanging the fence is David Enrique, also called « Kikito », the nephew of the family living on the land.
They provided us a part of their garden to put the image, without knowing that we were going to photograph their nephew. (The New Tork Times, Sept. 7, 2017)
The building of the project ended by accident at the same time as American President Donald Trump cancelled the Daca program. Daca protected about 800 000 young and illegal people, mostly Mexican, who arrived in the United States during their childhood.
We didn’t know that the Daca program was going to be cancelled by United States. It’s about steering people to chat, to think. I don’t have any answer, what I want is to listen to people’s comments about the artwork. » Some people dream about fantasy worlds, I dream about walls. (The New Tork Times, Sept. 7, 2017)
But JR hasn’t been the only artist to use the United-States-Mexico border. Artists such as the Japanese collective Chim Pom and their treehouse called the « USA vistors center », the American photographer Richard Misrach, Mexican composer Guillermo Galindo and even Oscar-winning Mexican director Alejandro G.Inarritu.
People will always migrate,when we built walls, people built tunnels. When we closed places, they went by the water. The history of humanity is the story of people migrating. Of course, that has to be regulated. (The New Tork Times, Sept. 7, 2017)
JR tried to explain the little kid symbol in his work :
As an artist, I try to bring back perspective. For this little kid, there are no walls and borders. « “I wonder, is this kid worrying about what will happen? What does he think?” JR said. “At one year old, you don’t see the frontier or which side is better. (The New Tork Times, Sept. 7, 2017)
JR hasn’t always been seen as a legitimate artist. When he started his art in the French city of Montfermeil, pasting extra large pictures of young people from the neighbourhood in the streets, the mayor of the city made a complaint about him. Ironically, this year, a giant paper ‘fresco’ representing the inhabitants of the town has been critically acclaimed by former French president François Hollande amongst others, and even the mayor of the city who complained about JR’s art a few years ago.
A street artist recognition takes times and the border between breaking ins is really thin and fragile. What makes a street artist turning from an underground artist to a « proper » one ? Maybe the quality, devotion and maount of work as well as the commitment, as JR demonstrated it.
Now Jr is famous for his work all over the world, having a studio in Paris and New York and working with some of the gems of the current artsy scene.
JR work and statement is definitely making everybody agree that, as he said he’s « More engaging artist than commited. » To meditate.
Here’s a very interesting talk from JR at the TED event: