While some artists find their inspiration in nature, others find theirs in people. Going under the graffiti moniker Face 3, artist and photographer JR started out with a passion for graffiti art during his teenage years. Born in France on February 22, 1983, JR’s perception of art completely changed when he found a camera on a subway. His photography allowed him to track different individuals who communicate messages via street art.
His photography took on forbidden undergrounds and rooftops in Paris, eventually leading him to 2004 when he photographed riots that broke out in banlieues. His first major art installment was posting large prints from the riots across the city.
JR achieved Portrait of a Generation in 2006, and the previously illegal project became official when Paris City Hall elected to have his photographs wrapped around the exterior of the building. Then, in 2007, the artist created the largest illegal exhibition ever. The exhibition was titled Face 2 Face and it contained huge portraits of a series of Israeli and Palestinian subjects facing one another in a variety of Israeli cities.
In 2011, artist JR won the TED Prize for his phenomenal worldwide work, which included buildings in France, the Middle East, Africa, and Brazil. He has had many exhibitions over the years, including The Wrinkles of the City, Women are Heroes, and InsideOut. One of his most recent projects involves the Tehachapi maximum security jail in California. Throughout the project, he met and learned the stories of the incarcerated men, their family members, the prison staff, and survivors of violent crimes.
The current technique JR uses to create his street artwork involves wheat pasting and gigantic mono photographs. He will use a 28mm wide-angle lens to capture his subject’s faces, which results in portraits that are more unguarded and real. JR’s work focuses on bringing common everyday things to the light. His photographs are then blown up and pasted on the sides of buildings, bridges, rooftops, trains, etc. This allows the artist to engage his work with people that may not typically patronize museums.
His most recent project took place at the 2021 Met Gala and featured actor and event co-chair Timothee Chalamet. It was a part performance, part installation piece and it is located at the Frick Madison. With the theme being America, the piece involved a video of Chalamet sitting in quiet contemplation in the Frick’s Fragonard gallery. He turns to see a large poster with a pathway and the American flag surrounding the pathway. Chalamet then rips through the poster and walks through to the rest of the gallery.
Regarding his inspiration for this piece, JR stated to Vogue Magazine, “We enter in an American flag, to find a place, an identity, a position, a future, between the stripes and the stars… To get to the end, we need to confront our rifts, our flaws, those of our nation, of our family and our own cracks which have been amplified by two years of loneliness, anger, fear, confrontation.”