When French artist JR gets together with Cuban-American artist José Parlá, you get to see a different kind of street art.
Not the wise-guy, ‘stick-your-tongue-out’ kind of stuff, but art that has a bit of soul.
Art that pulls you in and tells you a story
and better still,
makes you want to tell a story too.
JR’s work is predominantly photography based and involves taking images of local people and pasting them onto the walls of the neighborhoods they live in.
Not like models in big brand ads, and definitely not like wanted posters.
These pictures are more like his way of saying –
Time is passing us by.
Take a look at the people around you.
The people who were once young and are no longer so.
The people you see everyday but never really SEE.
Wrinkles of a City is a project that he started in 2008 in Cartagena, Spain, where he pasted photographs of the oldest inhabitants of the city on its walls. He then took this project to Shanghai (2010), Los Angeles (2011) and Havana (2012) where he collaborated with José Parlá.
And this is where the project gets more interesting to me.
It’s relatively easy to take a large photograph and paste it in an interesting niche or an artistic manner on a wall.
But how do you marry the two?
How do you get the photograph to sync with the story that the wall has lived, and is already telling.
This is where José comes into play.
José Parlá has a distinct abstract style that includes text combined with collages of found materials and detritus from the streets, all thickly woven and layered onto canvases, and in the case of Wrinkles of a City – street walls.
You get these two artists together and BOOM
The walls begin to slow things down. They being to make you see.
Street art has the ability to amaze, engage or alienate people. And this project does all three to some degree.
Many of the local people have no clue what these artists are trying to achieve, and are often amused by the scaffolding, painting and pasting involved in putting these works up.
But for the people in the photographs, and for their loved ones and local acquaintances, these images are about memories, about stories to be told and about lives as they are lived.
JR and José have made a short film about this project which is worth seeing. An easy watch with a great background score, it did raise a lot of questions about the purpose of this project and what it has achieved so far. A couple of friends find it rather patronising that two foreigners go into a neighbourhood and make a gimmick out of and exotify what is already rather obvious. But I do believe that in today’s day and age, when the everyday is all we can manage to live, it takes an outsider to come in and make you see things differently.
And to save us from fading away into oblivion.
Here are the artists, in their own words.