JR: Actions at Lazarides Gallery
Returning to London after five years, French artist and social commentator JR presents us with his two-part solo exhibition at London’s Lazarides Gallery – and what an exhibition it is.
A collection of works from Wrinkles of the City (2013), his journey to North Korea, and re-workings of his 2004-2006 Portrait of a Generation series, Actions is a comprehensive study of the artist’s initiative to employ art as a tool for global communication. A mix of colour prints and his signature mounted monochromatic paper pieces, these works are accompanied by a number of outdoor public installations, scattered across the capital.
Works from Wrinkles of the City (2013) come from an exhibition in April when JR took over the walls of 15 buildings in Berlin and pasted gigantic poster portraits. The sheer size of these black-and-white works is arresting, but after the initial shock, the viewer learns to look beyond at the surface on which they appear. Particularly striking is an image of an elderly man who cowers somewhat menacingly behind his colossal, outstretched hand. On closer inspection, the poster takes on the characteristics and properties of the planks of wood – the lines and cracks merge with the man’s wrinkles, making for a stunning piece of work.
The next room also displays formidably-sized posters pasted onto wood, but, instead of elderly faces, we have the war-torn faces of kids from North Korea. Placed among the exposed brick pillars of the gallery, these images take on new meanings; the bleakness of their reality is magnified. For these works in particular, there could not have been a better setting.
The staircase and the second floor revisit his 2004-2006 Portrait of a Generation series (a searing representation of the Les Bosquets ghetto in Paris). This is where JR is at his best: due to the destruction of the buildings featured in the original series, JR takes the wrecks, skeletons of what were once homes, and overlays them onto blown up, black-and-white images of the youths once inhabiting them. The anger and pain of these disillusioned youths convulses through the room – one almost hears the snarls echoing from their portraits.
Each work is strong enough to stand alone, but, coupled with their dramatic relation with the space they inhabit (particularly the walls of the staircase), they make for a very powerful exhibition. Totally immersive.
The editorial unit
Photos: Erol Birsen
JR: Actions is at the Lazarides Gallery until 14th November 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.