If you have not seen a piece of JR’s photograffeur (photography and graffiti) art before now then you have been missing out on one of the most significant street artists to come out of France in recent years. His work is so powerful and inspiring that in 2011, at just 27 years old, he won the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) prize. This was the first time an artist was awarded this prestigious prize with past recipients being people like Bill Clinton, Neil Turok and Bono. With the prize money from TED, JR started a scheme where people are invited from all over the world to have their portrait taken and used in a way to highlight global problems. He named it the ‘Inside Out Project’ and it has achieved global recognition as a way of garnering attention to important issues. In 2013 the Inside Out Project performed a USA wide tour to promote immigration reform in America and was labelled a huge success for its creator.
JR’s work also defies international boundaries and restrictions. In the bustling city of Jaipur in India where authorities deny any form of posters to be pasted on walls, JR created a way of revealing his pictures where the dust being kicked up by passing pedestrians revealed the portraits. His most clever and government defying work occurred in 2007 where, in collaboration with the artist, Marco, they produced ‘Face 2 Face’.
Face 2 Face was used to highlight the Palestinian and Israeli divide that comes to a head at the separation wall and security fences that split these two peoples apart. In eight cities and across each side of the security barriers, JR managed to place huge pictures of Palestinians and Israelis facing each other across the no-man’s land. This has gone down in street art history as the largest illegal art exhibition ever produced and is made even more impressive when you consider that prior to the event no-one believed it could be achieved.
Using photography on paper to make art is nothing new, but JR has reached new heights with his mind blowing images in the most unlikely of places and with ordinary people in his images. From shanty towns in Kenya to Flatiron Plaza in New York, JR has managed to transform the normal into his own train of thought; and here is the best part, JR wishes to remain anonymous and let his artwork do the talking for him. He wants us to question his work, he wants us to try and find answers that are based on our own experiences. His street art, unlike say Banksy’s which leaves us in very little doubt the ideals behind it, begs us to make our minds up over the underlying structure and thoughts that are being raised.
You can see more of his work in his book, JR: Can Art Change the World, published by Phaidon.