The inside/out project

You may remember the NYT magazine spread about the French street artist JR, who won the 2011 TED prize for his global innovation in pasting enormous photographs of individual faces in public places: the concrete banks of the Seine, where a giant nude reclines; metal rooftops in Nairobi, where a series of women’s eyes are visible from the air; Bethlehem neighborhoods where Israelis and Palestinians smile on the walls of each others’ territories; a staircase in Rio de Janeiro with a woman’s face on the risers all the way up; the embankment below a railroad track that features faces with the eyes missing—until the train comes along and fills in the faces as it passes, because the eyes are on the boxcars.

Winning the TED prize has allowed JR to help fund these projects all around the world. Anyone can send in a portrait for public display; the project sends back giant posters of the photos for the public installation. I think the only stipulation is that it be a face.

We got to participate in part of this global art movement last weekend in Bastrop, Texas. Our photographer friend Leon had been enlisted to take portraits of the citizens who had lost their homes in the recent wildfires, and those who had helped them, to post on the corrugated-metal sides of a historic cotton seed mill that’s being restored and reappropriated as an art studio compound.

The Austin artist community and the Bastrop locals turned out to work on this project together. The crowd included a two-year-old whose two-fisted wielding of the wheatpaste brush resulted in a couple smacks in her own face with the brush; a fireman with a two-foot beard who had been one of the main respondents on the scene and whose portrait was featured in the montage; a vegan baker who supplied treats for the crowd; a videographer making a documentary about the process; a boy pulling a cooler of drinks through the dirt to refresh all the workers; a couple of tourists from California.

Everyone took a turn at spreading the wheatpaste; everyone climbed the ladder; everyone stood below with the long-handled roller; everyone pressed the posters’ edges in and out of the grooves of the corrugated surface, making sure the poster didn’t tear if pulled too tight across a concave groove. We smoothed out the wrinkles from the massive teeth and noses and faces before us, as people behind us on the ground called up to us to make adjustments we were too close to be able to discern.

Dirt in the wheatpaste, rocks holding the posters down in the wind, jackets in the dust, sun in our eyes, glue on our jeans. When it was all finished, the supersized citizens of Bastrop beamed down from their grooved surface onto the tiny, scrubby street below.

Hello, people!

Click here for more on JR.

8 responses to “The inside/out project”

  1. J-Man says:

    That is so awesome! I love the contrast/blending of the photographed faces and the aging, cracked red sign above it. you must’ve been very proud to participate in this project.

  2. leon says:

    to stephanie and scott, the fact that you both were on this adventure with me made it all the sweeter. thanks for posting.

  3. LP says:

    Superlike! Public art projects are so great.

  4. FPS says:

    The subject of Texas leaves me tongue-tied with nostalgia.

  5. lane says:


  6. Swells says:

    The film is so lovely! Explains Sam’s project so much more thoroughly, and of course it features our beloved and extremely talented Leon . . .