Art
In the Studio with JR
JR’s art is omnipresent. Whether on the facade of a building, the back of a truck, or, currently, the streets of Times Square, the world is quite literally his gallery. But where is he? While we can’t disclose the location, we can give you a behind-the-scenes pass of his New York City studio—an artists’ commune à la Warhol Factory, where artist friends can sleep if they pay their fare in books and every corner is touched by art. On a rare tour, JR offers insights to a space beautifully overrun by art; it’s even rumored to live behind the walls.

Tour the Studio

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

“The one on the top left here is from North Korea. I went there last year. It’s a real handmade print, you know like drawing, this one is one canvas and the one on the top right is on paper. You can see all the lines; it’s a lithograph. So I brought them from there. I had to hide them to bring them back because they don’t really let prints get out.
This one in the center is an Os Gêmeos piece. They painted it for my 30th birthday last month. They say it’s the kind of life that I live, here on my boat with my little moon. You know Os Gêmeos never explain that much but it’s all in there at the same time.
Then I had my first museum show this month [at Watari Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan] so this is ticket number one, which I had framed. It’s still open until June 2.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

There’s artwork everywhere—inside every room; even in the bathroom, you have a Murakami hanging above the toilet! It’s just everywhere. Eventually, I want artwork to even get back behind the walls, because everyone thinks this building is full of art behind the walls. When they were renovating, the owner said that they would keep the artwork behind the walls.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

“[The map] was the first piece in the studio actually. When we got here, there was only one printer in the middle of the place, if you can believe it, so I asked Oliver Jeffers, who’s a painter, to make a map, so this was a commission. He made it especially for the Inside Out project, which was funny. He forgot some countries. He’s not intending to be precise, but then in our case, we have someone come in from another country…and they’re like ‘Where’s my fucking country?’ and then we’re like, ‘Oh we’re so sorry!’. So then we add them and we ask him to come and repaint. This map became the flagship of TED. They used it as their main theme, it was all printed all over, so it’s funny, it was a piece reflecting the actions happening.”
“[The tree] was the crate of an artwork, a large one—it was so big that Takao (my Japanese friend sleeping in the treehouse) was like you know, let me cut it out, and he started cutting it into these pieces and he made that tree. He is the assistant of the guy who made the treehouse, Tsubasa.
So, the funny thing is, it came because I’m not that familiar with the recycling system here; I don’t know where to throw that stuff away! It’s like I don’t ever know which garbage to use, and so we just recycle in-house!”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

“Oh, Takao good morning. Is it ok? [Speaking to his friend sleeping inside the treehouse.] Take your time, take your time. So, the artist, named Tsubasa, built that, because we needed extra rooms. There’s never enough space, so he took all the wood from some piece that I messed up, as well as doors and stuff, and he made that treehouse. And Takao (who made the tree downstairs) worked with him for while. Takao made everything you see in the house, the screens, the photo booth truck. He’s the craziest worker here ever. He’s just so passionate. He goes out at night, finds wood, comes back, works, like really insane. And so he’s made this his house, depending on when other people are staying in it.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

“Each person who sleeps here or who comes and has dinner here, they either leave one book a night or each dinner is one book. It can be a 50-cent book or a 50-dollar book, it doesn’t matter. They have to write an inscription why they chose that book. So this library gets bigger every night. I see it as a collection. Same for the artwork. And we call it The Family Collection, so it’s not mine directly, the books are not given to me. I’m just making sure that that collection always stay together. So imagine in ten years, when this place doesn’t exist anymore, this could be complete documentation—the dinners, drawings, all those pieces, the photo booth shoot, we have those, a footprint of a generation of artists, of a time that connected in the center of New York, without anyone knowing, basically.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

There are toner bottles all over—over here, over there. We used to have another printer right here. Before they renovated the building and we got the space, we broke the kitchen apart and the wall behind to find the bricks, and then we put in a massive printer. It was taking up most of the space; there was no chilling space around or anything, just this massive printer!”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

“The brushes and squeegee are pretty important to me, as it’s part of the process. Even in my studio in Paris, we frame them in glass.This one traveled quite a few countries. I couldn’t tell you which ones, because normally when they have a wood handle, I can write it on it, so the one in Paris, you can see I used it in Brazil, Kenya, etc. I bring them back from each country; it means they have been in my suitcase for quite a while. This one I took to Cuba, and it became really hard because of the glue I use. It’s very strong, and if I don’t clean it before it dries then it freezes in time, and so that’s why I freeze it there in time.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

“I hate going to restaurants in New York because it’s especially loud, and after spending your days in the streets, you want a quiet dinner place, you know, in an environment where you feel comfortable. So we host dinners all the time here, and even last night, people were just like ‘Hey, I was in the neighborhood, can I come in?’ We invited a band from the street to play, seven of them, a blues band.
And so for every dinner party, we take a photo, we print it during the dinner, and everyone starts drawing. So you would have an Os Gêmeos drawing next to a KAWS, etc.
I’ve always been into documentation and really since the beginning, I was documenting everything. I realized this when Alastair [Siddons, director of the recently released Inside Out: The People's Art Project] was making the movie. When journalists were interviewing me when I was like 16, I would put a camera up to film myself. I would document everything I would do. I stopped doing that now but I did it for many years.
A lot of people that have known Warhol Factory [make the comparison between my studio and Andy Warhol’s Factory]. Robert De Niro, who went there, he was here last night, or other artists— Madonna came here, she told me the same thing. But they told me it was different because at the Factory it was all around his work, where here I switched it around—it’s around the Family [aka the JR and Inside Out studio]. It used to be my main studio here, but it’s mainly downstairs. And here, you see other artists’ things going all night and, of course, that’s where we print all the Inside Out posters, but it’s kind of become that space where other artists, other friends, can come and work and stay.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

I realize that my work is about creating interactions, but in the real world, whereas all of social media is about creating interaction in the parallel world. So don’t get me wrong, I create interaction in the real world to then share it on the parallel world, that’s the way I function. And that’s why the work can now spread widely online, too. And before we didn’t canonize it at all, it was just all over.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

[Art Spiegelman, the creator of graphic novel Maus] told me he had something he wanted to give me. So I went by his studio and he showed me this [flat file] and I was like, no way! I would sell my house to get this! And then he said, ‘No, I want to give it to you; it’s such a pleasure that it’s going in your place,’ and, and so he wrote in the drawer 1977-2011. He said, ‘Look, I had it for forty years, but this is a 120 years old thing, then when you’ll give it to someone else later, you’ll write on another drawer’.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

So we did my website this year, something that you can go into and dig and dig and dig—videos, and there is a map you can click on to get involved [with the Inside Out project]. You just find your location on the map—there are 90,000 points right now—and fill out a form and say you have a wall, and I’ll see your wall, and if I prepare a project for you, you will receive an email to volunteer.... That’s always been the thing with my work—if you want to buy a piece, you can, but if you want to have it too, you can, you know, through your iPad. You can print it; the work is there—it’s in the street, it’s for the people, and if someone wants to put their own signature, their own vision on it, you know I’m fine with that. The app is just a great way to get access to it. But it’s crazy—the same guy that did my website did the app, but he had never done an app before this. Then it was featured by Apple because they were like, ‘That’s crazy; that’s insane.’ And then he did the iBook [The Wrinkles of the City, Los Angeles] too. Through the iBook you can even go to each video, go by each portrait. Eventually, I want to go deeper into that, creating apps for kids, learning about the countries through the projects. I will release more of these cool books in France and in a few other countries. All this is something that [my studio manager and producer Marc Azoulay] loves—the digging into layers of information, like on the new website.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I just eat sugar. That’s why there’s always candy machines everywhere. I always have candy around me and in my pockets!
Each time I find a vintage candy machine somewhere I just bring it back. Sometimes we spend days restoring a candy machine instead of working on something that is related to the work. But that’s something that’s important.”

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Detail of JR’s New York studio. Photo by Alec Bastian for Artsy.

Inside Out Photo Booth is a completely different process because it’s in the street, like in Times Square right now, or in other countries or in museums. It has been in many places. This photo booth, though, is for when you enter the studio. I have the same one at my studio in Paris. I don’t have an artist’s studio where collectors visit. I don’t work this way, I don’t sell at the studio, so I basically receive friends, artists who comes by; there’s a whole energy here. This is where we all meet, we work at day and at night, and so I love to capture that. I love to document that. This photo booth will shoot every person that comes in and out—you, the FedEx guy, the UPS delivery man, the cleaning lady, the guy who got to the wrong doorbell; basically everyone leaves with their huge portraits. The poster prints in four seconds and then they take it with them. If they leave it, I take it to them. I want them to have it, it’s not a copy for me. Then I have this screen that’s going, and each time I leave the building, I basically see people’s faces. I like that. Because that’s life.”
Artsy Editors