After Tate dispute, graffiti artist makes the capital his canvas
For his London debut, the Parisian photographic graffiti artist JR is thinking big. The photograffeur wanted to paste a giant blow-up of one of his images on to the 325ft tower at the Tate Modern. But when the gallery refused, JR decided to stage a wider exhibition of his work across the capital.
He is still working with the Tate to create a scaled-down piece to be shown on the gallery's riverside wall – an image of a man carrying what at first sight appears to be a gun, but on closer inspection is a video-camera – but, alongside this, he is planning six or seven huge art works around London.
The sites have been chosen with Steve Lazarides, the art dealer who also represents Banksy. JR plans to show several previously unseen images including a moving photograph of a young boy in Liberia and a photograph of young monks in Burma. Another image shows a man jumping off a high diving-board against the sky, but with no water showing below.
"I wanted to present various works, pictures I've never shown before," JR said yesterday. "The Tate giving me this wall really excites me. Each piece I do has to be a precedent. I thought in London I wouldn't have any trouble getting to the top of the limit. I love challenge. That's why I wanted to do my thing on the tower. The wall I am going to use is the one you see when you pass the bridge. I've chosen an image of a guy with a video-camera the size of your head."
The image JR will paste on the wall of the Tate originally appeared in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois in 2004. The year after, a riot broke out in the banlieue and JR's image came to epitomise the violence. "The media had a role," JR said. "Each night they reported the number of cars burnt in one area, and other areas wanted to burn more. You think it's a gun and at the last moment, it's a video-camera. But a video-camera can be a gun. You never know if the media is giving you true or false information."
JR will arrive in London on Saturday and start videoing each piece of art as it goes up to post on his website at www.jr-art.net. His Tate work, and that of five other street artists including Blu, will be unveiled on 23 May. On the same day, Lazarides's street art gallery opens on Charing Cross Road, with an exhibition by 23 artists, including JR.
The 25-year-old graffiti artist was brought up in a middle-class Tunisian French family, but prefers to remain anonymous because he wants his subjects to be the focus of attention. Like Banksy, JR has created work in the Middle East, making a series called "Grimaces for Peace", close-up pictures of Palestinians and Israelis working, which he put on buildings on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
"Banksy is one of the rare artists who is making art with a conscience and bringing it to places where it makes sense, such as the Middle East," JR said.
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