Street Artist JR Does L.A.:Faces Pop up on Buildings from Venice to Downtown
In L.A., the people are paramount. "This is a city where everything is about image," JR says. "Where people have Botox and fight against aging, I can bring big wrinkles and hang them on the buildings of the city -- in contrast to the big advertisements. Los Angeles' definition of beauty is being transformed by these people this week."
Sometimes the black, white and gray work blends a little too well with the urban landscape, as the art can be difficult to comprehend if you're standing directly in front of it. An example is the amazing three-quarter-view portrait of Louis Walden, a former Warhol Factory regular, that appeared Saturday on the facade of Angel City Brewing downtown, at Alameda Street and Traction Avenue. As with anything of a certain scale or texture, distance is key to absorbing JR's work. The best view is often from across the street or, better yet if you can score it, a rooftop.
However logistically and financially daunting his artistic exploits are, JR doesn't believe in corporate sponsorship of his projects and funds the endeavors himself, with proceeds from limited-edition book sales, the occasional print release and sales of alternative artwork through his gallerist, London superstar Steve Lazarides.
It might be easier for JR to get his point across now, though, as he was recently, and unexpectedly, given the 2011 TED prize, an honor that comes with $100,000. TED, a California conference of leaders in technology, entertainment and design, grants a "wish" every year to people who lead humanitarian efforts. Previously, the conference has rewarded Bill Clinton, religious scholar Karen Armstrong and author Dave Eggers.
The recognition is unprecedented for a street artist, bestowed perhaps in part for JR's altruistic Women Are Heroes project, which he mounted in Africa and Brazil in 2008. JR will disclose how he plans to use his wish money on Wednesday as part of TED2011, unfolding Feb. 28-March 4 in Long Beach.
"It's great, and people know that I'm going to announce my wish, that which is going to play a part in my next undertaking," he says. "But for now, I'm concentrating on these walls and finishing this project. I've wanted to do something in L.A. for a long time."
A concept like Wrinkles of the City is an obvious, ironic choice for a city like L.A. However, much like Los Angeles itself, the beauty of JR's photo graffiti is in its impermanence. Once it goes up, it is at the mercy of the elements -- be it the weather or the authorities.