A subversive street artist, JR, whose works are known for their monumental scale as well as the social message has a new exhibition filling the Saatchi Gallery
The artist known simply as JR was born in Paris in 1983 to Eastern European and Tunisian immigrant parents. He began his career as a graffiti artist, but after he found a camera in the Paris Metro in 2001, he began documenting his friends in the act of graffitiing and soon started pasting the photographs on building facades throughout urban centres.
Today his photographs have reached gigantic scales, and his art can take over huge swathes of cities, as a mix of outdoor exhibitions, or huge works of art that require whole blocks of buildings to be seen.
His art is also ephemeral, often based on poster paper that is designed to wear away very quickly, which is a boon as such is the size of his work that to impose it on a city skyline permanently would not just be a planning nightmare, but also an imposition on the people who live there.
What the exhibition does is show off the photos of the works that have long since faded to a fond memory for the people involved.
His work is political, but not aggressively so, often highlighting the overlooked people who live in poverty in the slums and favelas that swarm with people and government indifference. But he isn’t patronising or trying to tell a message of any sort, his art is about the people. The characters, and often the silly faces they can pull when in front of the camera.
Blowing those photos up to huge scales they can be plastered over the homes where people live, for a few weeks until the rains wash them away.
Huge eyes, noses, mouths spreading a gleeful joy to the passerby.
Even the highly charged exhibition that saw him pasting giant portraits of Israelis and Palestinians pasted on either side of the separation wall while reminding us of the politics of the area still manages to be hopeful and uplifting.
Some of his works are remarkable for the planning that goes into them. A part demolished building covered with photos is nice, until you read the small card and realise there’s a very clever idea behind it and that the art was hidden in the empty building until it started being demolished.
When asked to create an artwork to celebrate the Lovre pyramid, he hid it instead.
Some of his most famous images have been more recent, looking at barriers. A prison courtyard filled with photos of inmates and prisoners. A fence separating communities where they sit down to share a meal. Is if poverty or cultural customs that sees one side on a nice table and the other sitting on the floor?
It’s a big exhibition, as befits the scale of the works that the artist is famous for, filling two floors of the Saatchi gallery. For all the political messaging, overt and otherwise, the sense of playfulness that the photos convey is the overwhelming impression.
His work is clever, but much more important, it’s so clearly been fun for the participants.
For all the underlying politics, it’s a joyful exhibition.
Wed/Thur/Fri: Standard: £9 | Students & Seniors 60+: £6 | Under 10’s: Free entry when accompanied by an adult ticket holder
Sat/Sun: Standard: £12 | No Concessions | Under 10’s: Free entry when accompanied by an adult ticket holder
Tickets need to be booked in advance from here.