For the past twenty years, the French street artist Jean-René, popularly known as JR, has been making headlines with his monumental photographic collages and large-scale trompe-l'oeil artworks that he installs around the world. Artalistic - a leading online gallery - takes you on deep-dive into JR's artistic career and most iconic pieces.
A unique path to fame
Jean-René, popularly known as JR, is a world-renowned master of trompe-l'oeil, French for ‘to trick the eye,’ installations. This art technique uses realistic imagery to create an optical illusion. JR has created a very specific public persona for himself, always appearing in public wearing black sunglasses and a stylish fedora hat. This master of contemporary street art was born in Paris in 1983.
From graffiti to massive photographic collages
From an early age JR was fascinated by street art and, more specifically, graffiti. From the beginning of his artistic career JR’s street art has been dominated by multicultural themes, leading many to categorize him as an urban activism.
Starting in 2001, this French artist traveled around Europe armed with his camera. He talked to the people he met, listened to their stories and captured them on film. He developed the images and create large-format prints that he pasted onto walls in the cities he was visiting. This photographic collage process became JR’s signature street art technique. For the past twenty years, he has been covering walls and monuments around the world with his larger-than-life collages.
Since the beginning of the century, JR's street art has been creating waves in the art world. Let’s go on a trip around the world to see some of his most iconic pieces!
Contemporary street artist JR’s most iconic works of art
Some of JR’s most famous street art collages
Inside Out (2011)
In 2011, during his TED talk in Long Beach, California, JR stated, "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!" JR was awarded the TED Prize to start this art project entitled Inside Out.
The concept of the project was to give people the opportunity to share their portraits and a statement of what they stand for with the world. Anyone could participate in the project and they were challenged to provide photographic portraits that shared untold stories about their community. In the first eight years of the project, more than 400,000 portraits were posted in the streets of over 140 countries. This global project is probably JR’s most famous street art installation. It underscores themes surrounding feminism, racism, climate change, diversity, education and children's rights.
The Standing March (2015)
The Standing March is a collaborative installation project by JR and the American director Darren Aronofsky, who made the renowned film Requiem for a Dream.
The video was projected on the facade of the Assemblée Nationale in Paris during the UN’s COP21 Conference on climate control in 2015. The video featured 500 people from different cultures, underlining the global need from climate control and JR’s hope that the countries would unite over meaningful pledges during the conference.
A separate film was created after The Standing March. This looped film, with a soundtrack by the British band Massive Attack, was projected on November 29, 2015 from 8PM – 4 AM on the facade of the Palais Bourbon.
2021: A year of great achievements
The Pyramid of Khafre, the Eiffel Tower & Palazzo Strozzi
Only the street artist JR could think of creating a trompe-l’œil with the Pyramid of Khafre. For this massive installation entitled, Greetings from Giza, a giant arm projects from the sand and seems to hold the decapitated tip of the pyramid floating above the actual monument.
The previous spring, JR created another optical illusion piece in Trocadero square in Paris that gave the impression that the ground surrounding the Eiffel tower was no longer there.
Earlier that year, JR covered the facade of the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy, with a monumental collage called La Ferita (The Wound), that gave the impression that there was a gaping hole in the building.
Key pieces from the 2010s
Peeking at the City, Havana Biennial (April 2019)
This piece was created for the 13th Havana Biennial in Cuba. This collage covered the outside wall of the Galleria Continua. It was a massive collage of a little boy he had met while he was playing in front of the gallery.
The Louvre Pyramid (March 2019)
In 2016, JR created an optical illusion piece that made it look like IM Pei’s pyramid in front of the Louvre had disappeared. For this second project, he created the illusion that the pyramid was projecting out from a canyon. This piece took the help of 400 volunteers to install, encompassing a massive area surrounding the pyramid in the main courtyard, Cour Napoleon. This collage, entitled The Secret of the Great Pyramid, was made of 2,000 stickers.
Brandebourg Gate, Berlin (2018)
For part of JR's Giants project he created the piece Freedom in Berlin in celebration of the 28th anniversary of Germany’s reunification. For the occasion, the famous and symbolic Brandenburg Gate was covered with a gigantic photographic installation featuring German people celebrating after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Kikito is an ephemeral piece of street art by JR that was installed on the wall between the United States and Mexico. Created in collaboration with artists from the city of Tecate, it shows a Mexican child looking over the barrier separating the two countries. JR created this piece when Donald Trump announced he was going to construct a permanent wall all along the American – Mexican border.
Rio de Janeiro (2016)
Several of JR’s trompe-l'oeil pieces enjoyed meteoric success during the Olympic Games in Rio. Four massive black and white photographs of sportsmen frozen in motion were placed throughout this city in Brazil.
The Louvre Pyramid (2016)
In the spring of 2016, JR created this now iconic piece that made it seem as though the Louvre pyramid had disappeared.
Millerntor Stadium from the Heiligengeistfeld (2014)
Every year in Hamburg, Germany, the Millerntor Stadium is used for meetings promoting exchanges about social transformation. The FC Sankt Pauli soccer stadium - a soccer club known for its anti-racist and pro-LGBTQ+ stance - organizes a cultural and educational gathering with art and music. A few years ago, JR took part in the event by donating his art for display. You can find information about the event on Millerntor’s official website.