Can art change the world?

JR, Artist

Last week I discovered JR, and it wasn’t JR Ewing! It was JR the French photographer who recently did a makeover of Tower Bridge in London.

JR likes to say that he has the largest art gallery in the world because he displays his art across big public spaces. His retrospective exhibition JR:Chronicles has just opened at The Saatchi Gallery.

JR Chronicles The Saatchi Gallery

JR uses a collage technique to paste his images on buildings around the world – usually with a subconscious message. Although he would say he isn’t political, his messages come across loud and clear.

JR Chronicles at saatchi gallery

JR Chronicles in London

JR took Londoners by surprise when he took over Tower Bridge and pasted portraits of Londoners across the bridge as part of an art project for the Euros 2020.

Natanja Grun epic image of JR in London
© Image by Natanja Grun

The new Saatchi Gallery retrospective tells his story and explains his extraordinary vision of the huge impact art can have on society.

JR |How it began

JR began taking photos in Paris aged 17, after setting out as a graffiti artist before finding a camera on the metro. He began taking photos and giving friends a photocopy of themselves.

He pasted them on walls around Paris with a graffiti border so people would know it wasn’t advertising, but an ‘expo’.

JR | The power of paper and glue

JR took this concept to the Middle East for his Face 2 Face project. He met with Israelis and Palestinians doing the same job and tried to work out why they couldn’t get along. He took their portraits and pasted them alongside each other, displaying them both in Israel and Palestine.

As you go around the exhibition, take time to watch the videos. The insights they give to each project are very revealing.

JR | Around the world

The artist takes his projects into countries where there are no museums and highlights the plight of their stories.

JR Chronicles The Saatchi Gallery
JR says “when you put a face to someone’s story, it is hard to forget the story.”

He doesn’t have corporate sponsors so is not constrained. What you see is what he wants you to see.

JR | Does art change the world?

“Art is not supposed to change the world, it is a neutral place for solutions that in turn can help to change the world.”

JR Chronicles The Saatchi Gallery

I cannot recommend the exhibition more highly. Allow a good 90mins to enjoy it.

JR Chronicles is at The Saatchi Gallery until 3 October 2021
Tickets from £6