For the April 27 special TIME 100 issue, featuring essays and advice from more than 50 members of the TIME 100 community on the fight against coronavirus, we turned the cover image over to TIME 100 alum JR.
The French artist and photographer, who Laurene Powell Jobs wrote in a 2018 tribute “has dedicated his career to bridging gaps—physical, cultural, spiritual—among people of all backgrounds,” used his signature pasting style to create a lone figure peeking through the blinds along a Paris street.
JR’s artwork has been seen around the world, from the Middle East to the U.S.-Mexican border, Kenya to Rio during the Olympic Games. For this project, he decided to return to where he started making art more than 20 years ago. He even went back to the same printer he used in his early years as a street artist.
“When I was asked to figure out an image to illustrate this confinement and also this fear and hope, I thought that doing something on the street itself would be pretty special,” says JR, who started creating graffiti art on the streets of Paris as a teenager. “We couldn’t do it with any permits because everything is shut down, so we decided to just do it the old way, old school.”
JR created the 15-foot by 21-foot artwork by pasting long strips on the pavement at 5:30 a.m. on April 11. Similar to his epic installation at the Louvre Museum project in 2016, he used an anamorphic image, meaning the image is seen best from the angle where the photograph is taken, in this case, outside a friend’s apartment window.
The artist chose a quiet street in the 19th arrondissement “because it has tiny streets. It only took 20 to 25 minutes. Really fast. No noise. No neighbors even looked out the window. There were a few lights on so I was kind of worried.” He then had to wait for it to dry before photographing the final cover image at 9:30 p.m.
“I hope it will inspire and reflect what everyone is feeling right now,” says JR, who also dealt with coronavirus himself (he recovered three weeks ago and says he is now feeling fine). “It’s a special time. I hope this image sends hope when we can go back on the street—walk on the streets again.”
This work is not the only creative outlet for the artist, whose film Faces, Places received a 2018 Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.
“We have a place in Paris where we cook for the homeless and refugees,” said JR of Refettorio Paris, the restaurant he helped create in 2018 with chef Massimo Bottura, a fellow member of the TIME 100, our annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. “[During the virus] we are actually cooking there and delivering it. I’m one of the delivery guys. So I go through Paris every day, crosstown, it’s pretty empty, pretty strange. I’m sure it’s the same where you live.”
The service, which turns donated surplus ingredients into gourmet meals for underserved communities, is close to providing more than 5,000 meals a day now. “Because of the food delivery I do every day, I’m lucky to be outside and see people and I can tell you that every person I’ve met is of course eager to go back to normal and every little bit of solidarity right now helps a long way.”
This was the second TIME cover project for JR and his team of collaborators. In 2018, he created a large-scale video installation and cover image for “Guns in America,” photographing more than 250 people in three different U.S. cities to create a platform for an open discussion about gun violence in America.
This article is part of a special series on how the coronavirus is changing our lives, with insights and advice from the TIME 100 community. Want more? Sign up for access to TIME 100 Talks, our virtual event series, featuring live conversations with influential newsmakers.