Words by Katie Farley
Our city streets are undergoing quite the creative makeover, being redecorated with photographic visuals that radiate an air of curiosity, social identity, and artistic intrigue. An unorthodox combination perhaps, yet one that has triumphed in part due to street artist JR, an international talent from France who attained a passion for graffiti as a teenager.
His ideas about street art shifted when he came across a camera while traveling on a Paris metro in 2001. JR navigated his way around Europe where he met artists splashing their visions across a number of walls and facades, who would later generate their works in somewhat mundane urban locations, like the rooftops of Paris, building-lined streets, and throughout Europe’s underground transit networks.
Inspiration struck in 2004, when riots that emerged in the banlieues became the subject of JR’s photographic images. The photographs translated to his first major project, which involved pasting gargantuan-sized portraits of the subjects’ faces around the city. JR uses the world as his art gallery, exhibiting on streets across the globe and encouraging the public to contribute to his street artworks. He aims to capture the attention of individuals who do not typically frequent museums, thus involving and allowing the everyday population to engage with his works.
JR’s works juxtapose the notions of art and act, illustrating themes of freedom, identity, commitment, and limit. The unique arrangement of wheat pasting and oversized monochrome photographs are the fundamental contributing factors towards the creations of his street art methodology. The artist captures his images with a 28mm wide-angle lens and photographs people who emanate an air of unguarded, humorous, and soulful qualities, while focusing in on the zeitgeist of those who typically remain unidentified.
Empowering social statements are thick within JR’s large portraits and murals, a factor that has won him worldwide recognition. He received the prestigious TED Prize in 2011. JR endeavours to unite the world under a blanket of solidarity through his highly original and creative work.