These are not portraits, nor are the people in the photographs models.
The image of the man’s face remains almost hidden. You can see eyes and eyebrows, which stand a story tall, wide, covering the full side of the small building on Abbot Kinney in Los Angeles. Locals, tourists off the Venice Beach boardwalk, the wealthy who have come to eat and shop, the poor, and everyone in between walk in front of his hidden face.
He greets you at the crosswalk, behind the yellow figure of the crossing sign, on an odd, vacant building. His piercing eyes are shaped in a scowl. His eyebrows resemble overgrown bushes or the wild branches of a boney tree found hidden within the California desert. Lofty, they hang like a pair of solar eclipses.
Other portraits are teenage criminals, elderly women, and men and women of Cambodia, India, Brazil, Africa, Israel, and Palestine. Each image is some several stories tall, and others several blocks long or only found on rooftops and train sides.
JR’s work is more humanitarian than artist, peace activist than documentarian. His works are testaments to ideas, emotions, and feelings that transcend the individuals, and whose features are hidden and enlarged. These projects of the largest scale—almost as if their very existence is an impossible feat.
Each is more powerful, more amazing than the last. Each is more important, defining. Consider the peaceful reminder of who’s living behind each side of the Israeli Palestinian separation wall or of women shown heroically in Rio de Janeiro, Sierra-Leona, or Paris.
If fans could appoint or award Nobel Peace Prizes, than his would, and this feature would say JR Nobel Peace Prize recipient, rather than father, saint, and friend to the people of the world.
Inside Out Project
In 2011, JR won the TED Conference prize, which gave him the opportunity to launch an international participatory art and action campaign. He said then, “I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world … INSIDE OUT.” He activated thousands, if not tens of thousands of would-be bystanders into lively participants. He changed who we are, and how we live and act. Instructions for the project were simple: “Upload a portrait. Receive a poster. Paste it for the world to see.”
Tenderloin, San Francisco Group Activity
In San Francisco, Calif., the Inside Out group activity focused on one neighborhood, one action, and the hope to transform, if not “advertise” one audience. For Hugh Leeman, the Inside Out group activity leader and organizer, the project provided the perfect opportunity, and continuum to his own art and social practice. His home, community, and cause are that of the men and women living in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.
In sharing the project with these men and women, Hugh has added an additional human element to the campaign. Cameras were doled out, training was shared, and the portraits taken were not done by Hugh, or another trained, working photographer, but of friend-to-friend, or homeless to homeless.
The San Francisco/Tenderloin Inside Out project became what JR had intended, if not better. The insideout.net project site is first a global yearbook, photographs of portraits wheat-pasted, displayed not randomly but in beautiful decisions made by artists, models themselves. The outcome of this is also stunning, shown here on a scale unfathomable for any one artist, but appropriate for a world action.
JR’s project encouraged a neighborhood to recognize itself, asking participants to become “neighbors.” Allowing for an artist such as Leeman to recognize the possibilities of such action, the result of which is a campaign the pulls at the heart, and honors all those involved.
Hugh Leeman, an artist, social commentator, friend, and, above all else, is an advocate. Like JR, Hugh’s work belongs as much to him as it does to the subjects of his drawings. By capturing them on paper, he shares their stories, reminds us of the common man. His are the works that cover each intersection, overlook, billboard, and vacant or close to vacant space. What is seen, are the familiar red motif, with fleur-de-lis pattern, and over-sized portrait. The faces of Bag Lady Bob, Kenny, Clyde, and Benz in Hugh’s hands become emblematic. The nameless become named.
In other works, American heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Harvey Milk, or Huey Newton become reduced in grandeur, as their images are seen not framed, nor hung neatly in U.S. classrooms, nor properly credited and color-tinted in history books; but wheat-pasted in San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, and other cities both foreign and domestic. This is his gift … to us, to each other.
You can see Hugh Leeman’s contribution to the Inside Out Project at 609 Ellis St. at Hyde, in the San Francisco Tenderloin neighborhood. Additionally, artist and photographer Sean Desmond provided project assistance.
– by Adam Rozan for Warholian
All photos by Michael Cuffe for Warholian
More on the Inside Out Project – http://www.insideoutproject.net/
More on Hugh Leeman – http://hughleeman.com/