Most of JR’s projects — including his Instagram essay of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday celebration in North Korea last year — begin with him seeing a news report. This is what the street artist and TED Prize winner told Charlie Rose when he appeared on his show on Friday.
“Most of the projects I’ve done it was like, ‘Ok, I‘ve seen that place on the media. I want to go and see for myself,’” he says. “That’s how I’ve started all my projects; just taking a flight and going there.”
JR says that there is just one constant in all the places he visits — that the people are welcoming and excitedly offer to show him the city, including good places to paste. (North Korea was the one exception to this rule, he says, because there he was under constant surveillance.) It’s for this reason that, when he won the TED Prize in 2011, he founded the participatory art project INSIDE OUT, which allows anyone to have their portrait printed JR-style and to paste it up with a social purpose.
“When I was pasting my first posters, I did it with a community in a suburb of Paris … I couldn’t show up [because] I knew the police would catch me. So I had to leave the people to interact and they would answer the questions in their own way; they would make their own formula of what the art means to them. And I was like, ‘Wow! Their explanation of it is actually much more interesting than mine.’ So I kept on going this way,” JR tells Rose. “When I did INSIDE OUT, I said it’s just about them — I’m just a printer. When I started that, people told me, ‘Why are you giving all your secrets away? … I’m like, ‘No, actually, the more you give — the [more] comes back. The people took ownership — they own it.”