Parisian street artist/photographer JR uses the whole world as a gallery. His Inside Out project sees his photo booth truck travelling to far flung cities and people pasting up the A0 portraits it takes of them on the city’s walls. You may have seen him at Somerset House last weekend doing exactly that. He’s also got an exhibition ‘Actions’, starting at the Lazarides gallery on Rathbone Place on Friday. Josh Jones caught up with him for a chat.
Bonjour JR, will the Inside Out project ever end?
You know what? I don’t think I want it to finish, ever because it doesn’t depend on me. The more people that participate, whether it’s now or in 20 years, they will still want to express themselves in the images. I don’t think the images will lose their impact. Because it doesn’t only depend on me, I think it’s a project that should keep going.
If it does, how would you want it to finish?
The only reason that it would finish is that right now, we don’t work with any brand or sponsors or anything. It could only be a money reason, if we couldn’t balance it for it to end. I would want it to finish within the frame that it started, in that there would be no sponsors and that would be why it would fail. And that would be a success for me, instead of trying to keep it alive by any means possible. I’d rather something to finish like that. Art projects are not meant to be business models so if they finish at some point, let them finish.
Is there a particular city you’d like to finish in? Maybe Paris?
It wouldn’t be about a city because as we’re talking now, we might be doing this in London, but there are a lot of people around the world pasting. It doesn’t need me to be there. It’s out of my control a bit!
How many people have been involved with Inside Out at the last count?
At the last count it was around 160,000. But it keeps growing! It’s funny, you can put that truck anywhere and people will join in. We don’t announce it, just communicate through Instagram.
Do mayors around the world get in contact asking you to come to their towns or cities and put up your work?
We don’t really do that. We never do commissions or things like that. Sometimes it happens where a city contacts us, but if it’s not really where we are then we’re not going to change our plans. It doesn’t really function like that. Sometimes when we get in a city and they’ll say that they have some walls we can use. We just follow our track.
Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition you’re doing at Lazarides?
At the show at Lazarides I’ll present a few pieces but I will also reveal two projects that I have never revealed anywhere before. One is in North Korea and one is in the suburbs. For me it’s an important show because the project I’m going to reveal first of all is a massive project for me and you’ll see why it couldn’t be revealed before now because it is so ephemeral. I can’t wait for that.
Are there any parts of the world you still really want to exhibit in? Mountains, deserts?
I guess one place I’d love to go back one day and paste – I’d love to go and do something in North Korea some day. They already have massive murals, but always of the same guy!
Will you always prefer to display your work on the street and sides of buildings? Will you get sucked into Instagram and the internet?
Sure I use a lot of Instagram, but for me it’s about the interaction of the piece, not about the picture itself. In a world where Instagram connects us all but kind of disconnects us at the same time, so that, for me, is why I love hanging around. I didn’t create this project to hide behind, I created it to have interaction with people.
Is there one piece of work that you’re really proud of?
What I did in the Paris suburbs 10 years ago, and what I’m going to present at Lazarides is like a continuation of that 10 years later. Those ones are really important to me. There are a lot of pieces that I love for their impact over the years.
Do you have a favourite camera? Do you use the same one?
I don’t really have a favourite camera, I can use an iPhone or a Samsung – I don’t really care about the brand or anything. I just use whatever I have with me. It doesn’t really matter. For me, the printing and what you do with the images is what’s really important.
Do you always wear a hat? Is it a uniform or armour for JR the artist?
I don’t wear it when I don’t want to be recognised, so it’s a way becoming anonymous and I don’t have to wrap up my face like I used it. The sunglasses and hat are a character, it’s the same person underneath it’s just a way for me to not be recognised.