FACING THE PEOPLE

Parisians are used to the politics of street art. Especially those of 35-year-old JR (the nom-de-graff of Jean René). JR started his artistic life as a tagger. But when he found a camera someone lost, that soon changed. Photography replaced graffiti and he now works in size XXL – all over the world.

JR is best known for outsize portraits and for filling big spaces with unusual faces. Right now, his work is on show at Paris’ Maison Européene de la Photographie. Under the title Momentum, it’s breaking attendance records.

Visitors can goggle at his initial camera. But you can also study two decades of JR’s work. Most breathtaking for me are two installations – each one a photo-collage as big as a room.

Eaxch is backed by an equally large lightbox. The earlier installation dates from 2006 and it features the residents of Clichy-Montfermeil. This was one of the Paris suburbs which, one year before, saw serious rioting. It’s a beautiful piece, one that captures human ties in a way that almost breathes.

The second is even bigger. Inspired by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, it’s JR’s meditation on guns and America. One whole side shows pro-gun partisans. But, as the eye moves left to right, the emphasis shifts to their opponents.

The faces and bodies are seamlessly collaged and yet the piece is far from unified. It’s exactly the opposite: there’s a wave of movement that constantly ripples from side to side.

The gestures run a gamut, from sighs and gesticulations to weeping and threats. Some people hoist signs and others bang gavels – while some gesture for calm.

All JR’s photos are striking. But his collage works reinstate our ties and marry the smallest of daily actions with explosions. All those little acts, as he shows, add up.

Momentum, featuring JR’s “The Gun Chronicles”, can be seen at the Maison Européene de la Photographie through 10 February 2019

KING OF CAKES

The galette des rois appears at Epiphany and it lasts all through January. It marks the last hurrah of the festive season. It’s a simple, light cake that always tastes sublime.

Every Paris baker touts a version, in displays as pretty as the cakes. Even the supermarkets make a special effort – especially when it comes to the fêve (the prize) inside.

The person who gets the fêve is crowned king or queen. Usually these little charms are just ceramic trinkets. But this year, at the Monoprix chain store, some lucky winners are going to get “actual diamonds”.

A lot of people collect fêves but I like the crowns. They’re all made of paper usually in gold. But whether it’s a fancy pâtisserie or a neighbourhood bakery, they seem to bring the wares a happy touch of magic.

• The galette des rois is available everywhere between Epiphany and the end of January

ART’S REAL ROMANTICS

Who now takes up sculpture? Yet, unquestionably, sculptors were once art’s ultimate romantics. They led epic lives like those of Camille Claudel, Rodin, Brancusi and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.

Even Modigliani started as a sculptor. Like his pal Ossip Zadkine – a Russian expatriate who also worked in Montparnasse – “Modi” was often hungry. But the hardships were shared by artists from around the world: Pablo Picasso, Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall, Gino Severini, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jacques Lipschitz, Foujita.

Modigliani soon quit sculpting. But Zadkine make himself one of the great modernists. His works were poetic in their beauty although, early on, lack of resources meant work in wood as well as stone. In both, his three-dimensional skills are stunning.

Zadkine became a French citizen and (briefly) a Cubist. He found acceptance, married another Bohemian artist, bought small studio. This former haunt is now a museum. It’s less pretentious, less enormous, than Rodin’s huge palace. Yet it brings you every bit as close to sculpture’s true romance.

Ossip Zadkine, L’Instinct de la Materière runs until 10 February at Musée Zadkine