JR was born in 1983 in the greater Paris area. He lives and works between Paris and New York.
In 2001, the artist found a camera in the metro and started documenting graffiti artists and taggers in action on the metro and the rooftops of Paris. He then posted the images on the city streets and rooftops. Financial constraints meant he used photocopies that he affixed to walls, framing them with spray paint so they wouldn’t be mistaken for advertising or political messages. This was how he created Expo 2 Rue, or Street Exhibition, using public spaces as an open-air gallery, an artistic approach that became the beginnings of a body of work whose form is constantly evolving.
JR has been working with the director Ladj Ly for the last fteen years on projects in Clichy- Montfermeil (Seine-Saint-Denis) east of Paris.
In 2004, he launched Portrait of a Generation, a series of large black and white portraits of the area’s youth that he also illegally posted on neighbourhood walls. Clichy-Montfermeil was at the epicentre of the 2005 urban riots, and so JR returned there to continue his photographic work. He seized on the 28-mm lens as a way of enabling him to get as close as possible to his models, distorting their faces “as the media distorts our view of the banlieue1,” he explains. A selection of these images was posted up in Paris and on the exterior walls of the MEP in 2006.
In 2017, JR pursued his collaboration with Ladj Ly. The two artists photographed 750 residents, workers or passersby, getting them to relive instants in their daily lives, then assembling them in a monumental mural, an epic series of images similar to the giant frescos of Diego Rivera (1886-1957). JR reveals the faces and memories of these locals living with the collapse of the utopia of Clichy-Montfermeil, its unemployment, its drugs, its social revolts and its urban mutations, from the Urban Renovation Project begun in 2012 to the creation of the Médicis Clichy Montfermeil project.”
“I always think I know la cité (the suburbs) by heart, but everything changes, everything is always bubbling with life. My work is connected to architecture: architecture that has the power to unite as well as to close off. This fresco shows an image of Clichy-Montfermeil through portraits of the different generations who watched the utopian neighbourhood disintegrate, and misery and social tensions exacerbate to the point – following the deaths of Zyed and Bouna in 2005 – of sparking the most important riots in the history of France. A portrait of those trying to bring back poetry to the concrete.” JR
Discover the Wombat box No. 37 of JR.