Wearing his trademark urban chapeau, Parisian street artist and photographer JR recently stood at the base of a new piece in the Arts District, moments from its completion. It was another stop while whisking through Downtown Los Angeles to adjust his portfolio.
"We started 'The Wrinkles of the City [L.A. Edition]' last year and I had portraits that did not have a wall that made sense," he said.
During the start of his Los Angeles series, well-documented and topped off with the swirl of attention for being awarded the 2011 TED Prize, many pieces were placed at street level so they can be glanced at from a moving car. "I learned a lot about L.A. I adapted to that."
This time, the walls that make "sense" allow the city to become a backdrop to the portraits, a characteristic of his work seen in other countries where the scale of the art goes beyond the wall.
His contemporary form of wheat-pasting photographic imagery, despite being monochromatic, is a throwback to the mural masters of Los Angeles whose works become an architectural reference point.
Kent Twitchell's "Ed Ruscha Monument," formally at 1031 S. Hill Street, linked the negative space of wall and parking lot. Judith Baca's "Hitting the Wall" is striking, embedded with the 110 Freeway wall and segments on overpass pillars. On Broadway near 4th Street, Johanna Poethig's "Calle de la Eternidad Mural" are extended arms in a gesture of prayer against a corporate skyline.
This large scale aesthetic is sometimes missing in current mural work being done around the city.
Grassroots ethnic-based muralists following the tradition of ideas for the masses that break cultural barriers. while street artists test the rules of contemporary art and commerce while dodging the cops. Both schools are members determined to keep their respective aesthetics within a territorial categories of style. Sometimes that reflects in the piece, and content leans toward being isolated on the selected wall, staying within a neutral urban frame. It has you wonder if local artists are feeling alone in their own city.
Of course, painting a wall with limited resources and saddled by a mural moratorium can't be compared to affixing heavy grade paper to a wall supported with media coverage and, presumably, funding support.
Still, muralists inspiring to explore the tradition of can take a closer look at large-scale work interacting with the environment.
As for JR's use of art to identify the faceless, the subjects of "The Wrinkles of the City: Los Angeles" are older residents lost in a city known for pop-culture research, development and manufacturing. "Because of cinema, it's a city were there are no wrinkles," said JR.
That manifesto reaches an apex with current pieces in the Arts District, arranged through Jet Set Graffiti, particularly on the southeast wall of 830 Traction. Old eyes front the skyline of a city where pop-culture is researched, developed and manufactured. Further away, and unreachable, is the Hollywood sign in the far distance.
A crucial part of each project by JR is his photography (and in time, hopefully, his filmmaking will become noticed). It goes beyond being a document of a finished piece.
The day after that "Wrinkle" was installed, JR returned to the Arts District shoot it. By himself, and no crew or media, he spent an afternoon steering a back and forth to take pics of eyes set against the city. The images will be a direct interpretation of his work, and how it fits in the broader landscape, before it decays.
Top: French Artist JR taking shots of his latest "Wrinkle" in the Arts District I Photo by Ed Fuentes