French Photographer and Street Artist
Summary of Jean-René (JR)
Jean-René, better known simply as JR, is widely lauded as a master of contemporary street art. Coming to the fore at the beginning of the 21st century, he has since gained international success for his monumental photographic collages that have transformed everyday urban spaces into public art galleries. Combining art with global activism, his collages are exemplars of multiculturalism; collaborative projects that give a face and a voice to otherwise voiceless individuals and communities, with the result of inspiring social cohesion and cross-cultural communication. Adding to his street collages, he has masterminded breathtaking photographic trompe-l'oeil public art installations in prominent venues such as New York and Paris. JR has also cultivated a high profile public persona, always appearing in interviews wearing his iconic black sunglasses and stylish fedora hat.
- Earning him the title of "photograffeur", JR is probably best known for his expansive INSIDE OUT! (The People's Art Project) (2011) which can be viewed in "global exhibition venues" (namely the urban streets). Open to all, participants are afforded the opportunity to share a photographic portrait, and a short statement about their community. Since its inception, the project, which has (at last count) involved more than 172,000 people in 8,600 locations around the world, earned JR the title: "owner of the biggest art gallery in the world".
- Setting the tone for future projects, and possibly still one of his most famous installations, was his (technically illegal) piece of public art produced on a visit to Israel and Palestine during 2005. For the project, called Face2Face, JR photographed cheerful portraits of subjects from both sides of the Jewish/Arab border walls all of whom happened to work in the same or similar professions. He pasted these enormous black and white photos in pairs (one from Palestine and one from Israel) putting both nations on equal terms and thereby promoting commonality over difference.
- JR has expanded his repertoire to push the limits of the trompe-l'oeil technique. For his most spectacular installation, he used over 2,000 individual black and white prints to create the illusion that, when viewed at a distance, the iconic glass pyramid of the Louvre museum had disappeared. The project amounted to more than a "trick of the eye" , however, with JR's "performance" embracing the theme of impermanence, and susceptibility of his art to the forces of nature since the sun soon dried out the glue holding the prints and the artworks was all but destroyed withing the day.
- JR plays a more proactive role in promoting his work than most street artists (such as the mysteriously anonymous British street artist, Banksy, with whom JR is often compared) . He happily courts the media, and is open to requests for interviews, and other publicity opportunities. JR sees the media (and social media) as his ally, and a vital component in promoting his multicultural worldview and the various issues his art seeks to address.
The Life of Jean-René (JR)
JR claims to "own the largest art gallery in the world" and that his art adorns "the walls of the world". My art, he says, speaks directly to those "who would not usually visit museums".
Progression of Art
Portrait of a Generation
In 2004, JR started an audacious photographic series which became his first venture into large-scale street exhibitions. The initiative, which would evolve into his Portrait of a Generation series, was first realized on the walls of the "ghetto" of Montfermeil, in the Paris suburb of Les Bosquets where JR grew up. He and his friend, the local artist Ladj Ly, photographed local youths and printed their full-frame portraits as enormous posters which they then pasted onto the walls of condemned buildings in the area. He recalled: "the police arrested us but they couldn't understand why we had just spent hours in this building that was about to be destroyed [...] The next day, when workers started the demolition, the portraits were revealed, little by little, while the cranes were 'eating' the building. Only the people that were in the neighborhood that day witnessed the gigantic spectacle unfold".
Later, in November 2005, the deaths of two Les Bosquets teenagers, who were hiding from police in an electricity substation, ignited city-wide rioting. More than 10,000 cars were set alight, the police and fire departments were attacked, and there was widespread looting. The people of France watched on in horror as the violence unfolded on their television screens. Media commentators and politicians from all parties condemned the actions of the "feral" street kids.
While not wishing to apologize for the actions of the rioters (they had also devastated his/their own Les Bosquets community), JR decided to return to the design of his earlier Les Bosquets project where he pasted black and white photographic portraits on the walls of condemned neighborhood buildings. This time, he asked his young subjects to grimace at the camera. His aim was to create caricatures which he posted on the walls of Les Bosquets and also the "bobo" (bourgeois bohemian) districts of the city. He hoped these unsolicited visual confrontations would encourage people to think/talk about stereotypes and the economic and racial disparities that existed within the city. He said of the project: "It's something you have to experience to realise that the power of self-esteem and dignity is huge; we are all the same, wherever we come from. Image is part of the healing process, and it also has an impact on ourselves and others".
Action - 19ème arrondissement, Paris
Face 2 Face
JR's Face 2 Face project, created in collaboration with artist and tech entrepreneur Marco (Berrebi) is touted as the "largest illegal photography exhibition ever". The installation involved pasting monumental black and white close-up photographs of Israelis and Palestinians on either side of the Separation Wall, as well as on the walls of cities in both countries. The portraits were posted in pairs, showing Israelis and Palestinians with the same jobs "face to face" with one another, in an attempt to combat hatred and prejudice between the two communities. In the portraits, the subjects make childish expressions, emphasizing their shared humanity. The project was developed in participation with local communities, as the artists spent time conversing with individuals on either side of the wall to learn their stories, and community members later assisted in the installation of the works, and in speaking to the media about the project. The project was later developed into the film Faces (2008), directed by Gerard Maximin.
JR said of the project, "we decided to go together to the Middle East to figure out why Palestinians and Israelis couldn't find a way to get along together. We then travelled through the Israeli and Palestinian cities without speaking much. Just looking to this world with amazement. This holy place for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This tiny area where you can see mountains, sea, deserts and lakes, love and hate, hope and despair embedded together. After a week, we had the exact same conclusion: these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he is endlessly fighting with him. It's obvious, but they don't see that. We must put them face to face. They will realize". He also explains that the portraits are unique because they were shot with a 28-millimeter lens, "which brings you within ten centimetres of the person being photographed. You can feel them breathe at this proximity".
Action - Israel-Palestine Separation Wall
Women are Heroes
The Women are Heroes project aimed to highlight the role that women play in societies and communities around the world, at the same time as it sought to address the oppression of, and violence against women. Says the artist, "through the woman's conditions, sometimes you realize the conditions of the country". He travelled to countries including Brazil, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Kenya, India, and Cambodia, where he met with women, listened to their stories, and took their photographs. Their portraits were then exhibited on public walls, bus exteriors, and even shipping containers, in the women's local communities and elsewhere across the globe. JR later developed the photos and film footage of the project into a documentary film, which was part of the Official Selection of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
The project met with different challenges in different countries. The installations in Cambodia had the shortest lifespan, as they were pasted on the walls of homes that were slated to be torn down shortly thereafter, and thereby paralleling the plight of the local women who had been fighting to keep their homes against the push for new real estate developments. In the Kibera slum of Kenya, JR made his art more functional, pasting the photographs onto the roofs of houses, using vinyl instead of paper to prevent rain from seeping into the houses as it had previously. In India, meanwhile, JR had to modify his approach on account of it being illegal to paste posters with political content. His solution was to paste over the original portrait with white sheets of paper that had been treated with transparent glue. Over time, the glued sheets faded slowly revealing the original image.
Art writer and critic Angie Kordic explains that the project "was an homage to women as the pillars of their communities everywhere, but who were suffering the most, especially in times of war and conflict. Way too often, women are the primary victims of crime, rape, or religious fanaticism. [The women's] faces, sometimes serious and others not, their eyes full of expression, ended up covering entire houses and buildings. Together, these come together to create an impressive, unique portrait of a suffering society; stories that linger under the surface that we can no longer ignore".
Action - Monrovia, Liberia
Lehnert and Landrock revised by JR, Egypt 1923-1930, Imam Ash Shafi-i's mosque, Cairo
In 2009, JR commenced his Unframed project with, Unframed - Grottaglie, in which he pasted a library photograph from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster as a way of denouncing the illegal dumping of local toxic waste at Grottaglie, in Southern Italy. The following year he unveiled, Unframed -Vevey, an altogether more ambitious public installation in which he transformed the picturesque Swiss town (of Vevey), on the shores of Lake Geneva (and home to Charlie Chaplin for the last 20 years of his life), into a giant "open sky" gallery. His Festival Images (Vevey) installation was produced with the support of the Musée de l'Élysée in Lausanne, which granted JR unrestricted access to its photographic collection. It was an unprecedented undertaking for JR and marked a new artistic direction in his career.
For the installation, JR completely transformed the street facades and walls of the town. He took existing works from the museum - including Lucia Moholy's Bauhaus, Bauhaus, (1925-26), Robert Capa's Troupes américaines durant la bataille de Leipzig, (1945), Man Ray's Woman With Long Hair, (1929), John Phillips's Workshop at Corpus Christi, (1940), Sebastião Salgado's Guatemala, (1978), Nicolas Bouvier's Le train de nuit en banlieue, hommage à Kurosawa, Tokyo-Nord, (1965) - effectively breathing new life into the images by giving them a second geographical and historical point of reference. JR had not completely subdued his political activism, either. This was evident in his use of the 1920 photograph, Imam Ash Shafi-i's mosque, Cairo, by Lehnert and Landrock, which he enlarged and displayed on a 40-meter-high silo. His goal was to critique the outcome of a 2009 nationwide referendum forbidding the construction of new minarets on Swiss territory.
JR continued over the proceeding years with (albeit, less grand in scale) Unframed initiatives in Brazil, France, Germany, and the US. For two of these projects he turned to "anonymous" family photography to realize his vision. In Marseille in 2013, for instance, JR celebrated the historic la Belle de Mai neighborhood by inviting inhabitants to think about their community's collective memory by donating old and new photographs from family albums which he then used to adorn the facades of local buildings. He repeated this initiative in Baden Baden, in 2014, in a project that was aimed to celebrate and promote the growing friendship between Germany and France after decades of post-war hostility between the two countries.
Installation - Vevey, Switzerland
Inside Out, Lakota Project, Brandon Many Ribs
JR's most participatory project to date is Inside Out. He announced his plans for this project in his 2011 TED talk at Long Beach, California: "I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project and together we'll turn the world... INSIDE OUT!". For the project, any person, anywhere in the world, can send JR and his team their portrait which the team then prints in poster size and return to the sender. The participants are free to then paste the poster onto walls in their own community, or, indeed, another location of their choosing. Since the project began in 2011, an estimated half-million people in over 148 countries, across all seven continents, including Antarctica, have participated. Some Inside Out projects have been "Group Actions", initiated by people who wish to call attention to a certain social issue, such as a group in Caracas, Venezuela, who sent in portraits of mothers who had lost their children to violence, and a feminist group in Miami, Florida, who wished to address the oversexualization of local women.
The Lakota Project was initiated by members of the Lakota tribe in the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota who wanted to draw attention to a spike in youth suicides within their community. The Lakotas submitted 13 portraits to the Inside Out project in May 2011. JR helped their story "travel" by pasting a monumental-sized (made up of 64 individually printed panels) portrait Brandon Many Ribs in New York the following year. It was displayed on Manhattan's High Line, a 1.45-mile elevated park and walkway, which is an open park providing views of outdoor art works. The Lakota mural dominated the stretch of the High Line overlooking 27th Street, near the Hudson Yards. The unveiling of the portrait tied in with the publication of a book, American Indians and the Mass Media (2012), which asserts that Native American communities were beginning to take control of their image.
Each Inside Out Group Action is documented, and shared on JR's website, in order for information about the action and its motivations to be clearly communicated. The project inspired the HBO documentary feature, Inside Out: The People's Art Project (2013), and the book, JR Inside Out (2017) which includes contributions from TED curator Chris Anderson as well as the musician, Pharrell Williams.
Highline, New York
Unframed, Children treated in the Ellis Island Hospital
Having produced Unframed schemes in Europe and South America, JR took the project to the US. In 2012 he used the walls of a building (at 1401 T Street) Washington DC to honour the Civil Rights Movement through the reproduction of Ernest Wither's images of the 1968 "I Am a Man" demonstration by Memphis sanitation workers (the last march led by Dr. Martin Luther King before his assassination). His second Unframed US project was in 2014, at Ellis Island (situated in New York City's Harbor). The aim of the site-specific project was to bring alive the history of the Island's hospital which had stood abandoned for the past 70 years.
Ellis Island (today home to the National Museum of Immigration) was the first point of entry for nearly twelve million (mostly European) immigrants between 1892 to 1954 (and for many unfortunates who did not meet immigration requirements, the only American soil on which they set foot before being deported back to their home countries). The 750-bed hospital included infectious and contagious disease wards, a mortuary, and an autopsy room. At its peak of operation it was the largest Public Health Service facility in the United States. JR said of the project, "coming from all over the world, leaving their belongings, their family and their past behind them, with the fear that they may be sent back to it, the presence of these people who have shaped the modern American identity can still be felt in the buildings [...] This is the opportunity to interpret the stories of these people through art".
The installation was produced from archival photographs taken in and around the hospital while it was still a functional infirmary. JR used photographs of immigrants who were processed at the Island, as well as American doctors and nurses who treated the sick. JR added that it was also important to him, "to respect the architecture" of the hospital and to "let the walls decide what part of the image should appear". With most of the photographs (about two dozen in total), the subjects' expressions were left to "speak for themselves", but JR surreptitiously digitally edited some of the images to replace the immigrants faces with those of contemporary Syrian refugees in order to connect the past with the present (something current Island officials never noticed). In 2015, JR made a short film about the history of Ellis Island, narrated by, and featuring, Robert De Niro. (In a teasing overlap of fact and fiction, the use of De Niro might be viewed as a perceptive choice of narrator. Towards the start of what is, for a vast number of commentators and critics, Hollywood's greatest ever film sequel, The Godfather Part II (1974), a nine-year-old Sicilian refugee (and future mafia don), Vito Corleone, passes through a congested Ellis Island in 1901. Vito is then shown being treated for smallpox in the Ellis Island hospital. De Niro plays the adult Vito in the laureled film, a role for which he won his first Oscar.)
Action - Ellis Island Hospital, New York
JR at the Louvre Museum, The Pyramid
JR has intervened twice upon Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei's iconic glass pyramid of the Louvre museum; the world's most-visited museum, and the home of the world's most famous painting, Leonardo's, Mona Lisa. The pyramid, completed in 1989, was a part of an initiative by French President Mitterrand to elevate Paris's reputation for innovation in modern architecture. Pei's futuristic and iconic landmark also served the practical function of easing the traffic of visitors to the museum. The pyramid sits on Court Napoleon, the main courtyard of the Louvre. Visitors travel through the pyramid down into an underground intersection of galleries that lead to an expansive lobby from where they can then enter the museum's main buildings.
For the 2016 project, he (helped by a 400-strong team) installed a black-and-white image, printed on over 2000 pieces of paper, directly onto the pyramid causing it to "appear to disappear" in a sort of contemporary trompe l'oeil (a realistic optical illusion of three-dimensional space and objects created on a two-dimensional surface), or what JR called an "anamorphic effect". Jean-Luc Martinez, director of the Louvre, said that JR's intervention "magnifies this iconic monument and allows everyone to reappropriate it through a popular and festive performance".
In 2019, JR created a second trompe-l'œil image at the Louvre, titled The Secret of the Great Pyramid, this time imagining what the pyramid looked like underground as though the visible pyramidal structure were only the tip of a much larger architectural iceberg. In both Louvre interventions, JR embraces his work's impermanence, and susceptibility to forces outside his control. He says "The images, like life, are ephemeral. Once pasted, the art piece lives on its own. The sun dries the light glue and with every step, people tear pieces of the fragile paper. The process is all about participation of volunteers, visitors, and souvenir catchers. This project is also about presence and absence, about reality and memories, about impermanence". In fact, within just one day, The Secret of the Great Pyramid was all but destroyed.
Action - The Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Biography of Jean-René (JR)
The artist Jean-René, known more commonly as JR, was born in Paris to a Tunisian mother and Eastern European father. He grew up in the deprived immigrant community of Les Bosquets, in Clichy-sous-Bois, on the outskirts of the city. Between the age of twelve to thirteen he worked in the local markets, unpacking, and stacking stands for sellers. He attended Pierre-and-Marie-Curie College in Le Pecq in Yvelines. JR first ventured into the artworld as a graffiti artist who specifically sought-out perilous sites, such as rooftops, basements, and metro trains.
In 2001, the eighteen-year-old JR found a bag containing a camera on the Paris metro. This chance discovery would alter the course of his life. As he later recalled: "One day, on the platform of Line A, I found a satchel with a small camera, left behind by a tourist. I thought it would be nice to document the incredible places that I had discovered [as a street artist]". It inspired him to travel around Paris to photograph existing urban art. His favorite places to shoot were in the subways and on rooftops, where he and his friends had also painted graffiti. The tags (pseudonyms) he used were "Face 3", and his initials, "JR". Before long, JR was making photocopies of his photographs and pasting these on the city walls. He framed these posters with spray paint, creating his "Expo 2 Rue", his so-called, "sidewalk gallery".
In 2004, JR, with his childhood friend, Ladj Ly, photographed street kids from Clichy-sous-Bois and pasted enlarged photocopies of their portraits on the walls of condemned buildings - many of which were subsequently demolished (and the portraits with them). The following year, two teenage boys from Clichy-sous-Bois were killed by electrocution while hiding out from police in an electrical substation. The incident (which caused a widespread blackout) was the catalyst for three-weeks of city-wide rioting and looting. Some 8,000 cars were burned and the police made close to 3,000 arrests. The rioters were roundly condemned by commentors and politicians as "racaille" ("scum"). In early 2006, JR (with Ladj Ly) returned to Clichy-sous-Bois, and using a 28MM (wide-angle) camera, once more photographed local youths making exaggerated scowls. This time he posted the portraits both locally and in more salubrious areas of the city. His Portrait of a Generation series (as it became known) was intended to ask onlookers to question their prejudices and attitudes towards youths growing up in ghetto-like conditions, with poor employment prospects, and under the constant scrutiny of the law. The Portrait of a Generation, project was "legitimized" as art when City Hall wrapped its building in some of JR's images.
On the back of the success of Portrait of a Generation, JR's vision became more ambitious. In 2007, he collaborated with the artist Marco (Berrebi), to create Face 2 Face. It was JR's first international project and, at the time, thought to be the largest ever unauthorized photography installation. The project involved pasting large-format portraits of Israelis and Palestinians facing each other on either side of the West Bank separation wall that split their communities. JR and Marco brought together individuals from both sides, most of whom were employed in the same professions, and photographed them pulling comical faces. They enlarged the upbeat images to enormous proportions and pasted the juxtaposed portraits onto both sides of wall (and also in some surrounding cities).
JR's intention was as obvious as it was optimistic: to draw attention to the shared humanity and fundamental similarities between Israelis (Jews) and Palestinians (Arabs). He recalled that, having spent one week touring the areas, "we [he and Marco] had the exact same conclusion: these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he is endlessly fighting with him. It's obvious, but they don't see that. We must put them face to face. They will realize".
JR followed in 2008 with, The Wrinkles of the City, in which he photographed and pasted portraits of elderly people onto buildings in cities as far reaching as Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Havana. This time his goal was to highlight the grace and wisdom that comes with age, and to celebrate the contribution older people make to society. At the same time he initiated his Women Are Heroes project, in which JR created installations in Brazil, India, Cambodia, and in Africa that highlighted the dignity of female victims of war, sexual assault, and religious extremism. (JR made a film of the project that was nominated for a documentary prize at the 2010 Cannes Festival)
In 2009, JR began his ongoing Unframed project for which he appropriates existing images by famous and unknown (archival) photographers. For the first of the series, Unframed - Grottaglie, JR pasted an archive photograph from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to denounce the illegal dumping industrial waste in the ground at Grottaglie, in Southern Italy. He followed in 2010 and 2011 respectively with Unframed projects in Vevey, Switzerland, and São Paulo, Brazil. The former referenced a recently passed bill banning the building of new minarets; the latter, Brazil's fight against deforestation.
In 2011, JR achievements were acknowledged when he was awarded the TED Prize, which came with a $100,000 award. TED, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, foundation that spans science, business, education, and the arts, promotes initiatives that, according to its own publicity, "bring people together to share ideas and bridge divides in communities on every continent". He used the prize-money to formally announce his signature Inside Out project, a global, collaborative/participatory art project that would bring individuals together in over 140 countries. Inside Out participants were invited to send in their own portraits, with a short text about themselves, which JR and his team enlarge to poster-size and return to the individual with the instruction to paste the image/text on a wall in their own community.
Following the opening of his New York studio in 2011, JR produced his Faces of Hope installation in 2013. Repeating the aims of his Face 2 Face project, he photographed and pasted portraits of Syrian refugees onto the sides of buildings in Lebanon. The goal was to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and to promote empathy and understanding towards people in desperate situations.
On the back of further Unframed projects in America, France and Germany, JR participated in the New York City Ballet's 2014 second annual Art Series program. He created a massive trompe l'oeil image of an eye created through life-size photographs of the ballet dancers on the floor of the Promenade, and coupled this with a large wheat-paste display on the front windows of the Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater.
Also in 2014, he created a photographic installation on the Pantheon in Paris, called "Au Panthéon!", as part of the Inside Out project. He collected portraits on a website and across several locations in France via a roaming photographic truck. The dome, the cupola, and the nave, of the Pantheon were then covered with thousands of the anonymous portraits.
Since 2015, JR has created interventions and installations at the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, and at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His 2017 documentary, Faces Places, which was made in collaboration with legendary French photographer and film director Agnes Varda, was nominated for an Oscar. Kikito, a monumental installation created on the US-Mexico border featuring a photograph of a Mexican child looking over the border wall into the United States, followed in 2018. Like many of his earlier projects, JR's aim was to encourage empathy and understanding between people on opposite sides of a wall or border.
In late 2018, he created the November 5 cover story for TIME magazine which focused on individuals who have been affected by gun violence. "The Gun Chronicles: A Story of America" involved photographing and interviewing people from across the United States about their experiences with guns. He met with and photographed 245 Americans (from Dallas, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, and Washington, D.C.), and then combined their portraits into a mural. The mural also appears on JR's smartphone app, "JR:murals". App users can click on individuals and listen to an audio recording (and/or read a transcript) of that person sharing their story. In November 2018, JR undertook a similar mural project with inmates at the Tehachapi maximum-security prison in California, which was then uploaded to the app with short oral commentary. In 2018 JR was named one of TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People.
In 2018, JR also partnered with director (and lifelong friend) Ladj Ly to create the École Kourtrajmé (slang for "short film school"), which aims to provide low-income youths in the suburbs of Paris with free arts training. The school admits fourteen students each year, with no obligation to graduate. JR produced The Chronicles of San Francisco in 2019, a project that used over 1,200 portraits of San Franciscans to create mural that covered the walls of a gallery space. It was a collective portrait of the city that celebrated the diversity and vibrancy of San Francisco.
Although he courts publicity for his projects, JR chooses to keep his private life secret. Even his full name was not publicly known until 2020. He has said of his chosen pseudonym, "JR stands for the fact that I'm still the same kid who is trying to see the world from different perspectives. I am the same now as I was when I was 15-years-old climbing onto the rooftops of Paris and the Paris suburbs". He also recognizes the way in which the technological innovations have benefitted him: "Photography, in the last 15 years, has developed in a way that anybody can now do it, and that's how I got into it. In the early years of my work, photography was at the beginning stages of being democratized by going digital. If I was born 15 years earlier, I might be doing something very different today".
JR has since created two further cover images for TIME, including the April 27, 2020 "Finding Hope" issue. This photograph was of an installation that showed an anonymous person peering through the lines of a crosswalk, as if the lines were the slats of window blinds. He was inspired to create this image after thinking about how, during the covid pandemic, people were "looking every day at the street through their windows". For the magazine's March 28, 2022, cover, "The Resilience of Ukraine" issue, he made an aerial photograph of several people standing around the edges of a massive cut-out of a photograph, taken by Ukrainian photographer Artem Iurchenko, of a young Ukrainian girl named Valeriia who fled the country with her mother earlier in the year. In the photograph, Valeriia is smiling from ear to ear. JR wanted her image "to remind all the people up there, flying above Ukraine that there are people like you that we need to protect".
JR is currently represented by Perrotin, PACE Gallery, Galleria Continua, and Nara Roesler. He proudly continues to fund his public art projects on his own (through the sales of his photographs and with the support of philanthropic patrons), resisting pressures to accept corporate sponsorship. As he puts it, "You wouldn't take [the work] in the same way if I did it with [a sponsor such as] L'Oréal".
The Legacy of Jean-René (JR)
Even though he is still at a relatively early point in his career, JR's photographic installation projects - or "actions", as he prefers to call them - serve as powerful examples, not just of the way in which art can work in tandem with social activism, but also how artists can create compelling messages by working outside of traditional gallery systems (and even outside the law in some cases). Journalist Fabrice Bousteau has called JR "the Cartier-Bresson of the 21st century", and indeed, JR's blending of photography and street art (as well as film, installation, performance, digital media, and more) is distinctly contemporary. Though several years JR's senior, American street artist Shepard Fairey draws inspiration from the younger French artist's transformative and visionary projects, calling him "the most ambitious street artist working".
Curator Nato Thompson adds that "JR's desire to touch people's lives allowed him to become a photographer who was willing to let go of everything that constitutes photography in order to re-invent the medium itself with a much more expansive capability". Art writer and critic Angie Kordic adds, "Simply put, the man's continuous, selfless commitment to art and the ways it can change the world is nothing short of inspiring. In such terms, the work that he's doing is also incomparable to anything or anyone else at the moment". Although he is compared to the famous English street artist Banksy (who also addresses pressing social and political issues) JR's approach is far more ambitious in scale. It is also more human-centered, promoting authentic and attentive dialogue with community members facing challenges enforced on them by events outside their control.