Street Pop Artist Jisbar On Reinvention and Rediscovery

Whether or not his classic/modern mashups are your cup of tea, there’s no denying the man has a rare talent for merging styles.

A man sits cross legged on the ground in front of several paintings
Jisbar with a selection of his works. Courtesy Jisbar

In 2019, a reinterpreted version of the Mona Lisa painted by French pop-street artist Jean-Baptiste Launay, better known as Jisbar, floated more than 20 miles above Earth’s surface for over an hour and a half. Before and since, artists including Trevor Paglen, Xin Liu, Tavares Strachan and—perhaps most notably—Jeff Koons working with Elon Musk have cooked up schemes to launch artwork into space. But Jisbar’s Space Mona was the first painting to make it successfully to the stratosphere and back, after which it was displayed at Galerie Montmartre in Paris.

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It was a fitting exploit for an artist probably best known for tapping into a blend of classical and modern artistic influences—he’s an street art innovator who finds inspiration in the past. His canvases and other works borrow liberally. There’s iconography galore: Mickey Mouse, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, KAWS’s Companion, the head of Michelangelo’s David on a two-foot-tall Pez dispenser. Whether or not that sort of thing is your cup of tea, there’s no denying the man has a talent for merging styles (one that has earned him a loyal following).

A line of people waiting in the color outside of an art gallery
Art lovers queued up for Jisbar’s show at Eden Gallery. Eden Gallery

Jisbar’s work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums around the world—Eden Gallery, OA Galerie, Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi, among others—and his work was part of the immersive Mona Lisa exhibition co-produced by the Grand Palais and the Louvre in 2022. In the National Museum of Immigration History in Paris, he presented his work Love is the New Fame to former French President François Hollande during an art exhibition condemning racism and antisemitism. Earlier this year, he brought works related to New York City to EDEN Gallery on Fifth Avenue, and he continues to rack up notable brand collabs (BMW, Armani, Ducati).

Observer had the rare opportunity to ask him about his inspirations, NFTs and sending artwork to space.

You’re known for your colorful, street-art-inspired reinterpretations of classical artworks. Do you think those are, at least for some audiences, more accessible than the originals?

As an artist, my primary source of inspiration lies in the realms of pop art and street art. Over the course of more than a decade, I’ve taken it upon myself to reinterpret my beloved pieces from art history using vibrant and contemporary aesthetics. Without the privilege of formal art history education, I embarked on a personal journey of self-study, breathing new life into timeless masterpieces through my unique artistic language. My passion thrives on subverting the original messages into satirical narratives that challenge and engage the audience. I firmly believe that reviving classic art in a contemporary pop universe can serve as a gateway for people to explore and appreciate the rich history of art, making it more accessible, modern, colorful and playful, all while connecting it to our current era.

A colorful canvas
A Jisbar work inspired by Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture. Courtesy Jisbar

What about the “words, slogans, numbers and codes” that are also a prominent defining feature—what’s the inspiration there, and how much contextual knowledge do audiences need to appreciate them?

My artistic expression draws heavily from the spontaneity of the street art world. It’s of great significance to me as it allows the artwork to narrate its story in an unpredictable manner. The words and phrases incorporated into my work serve as the building blocks of different stories, each unique to the observer. One person may link a sentence to another in a certain way, while someone else may choose a different path, giving rise to an interactive artwork laden with abundant information. It’s a piece in which one can invest time, discovering or rediscovering intricate details that can craft a personal narrative in their own unique way.

You literally sent a painting into space. Why space?

In 2019, I embarked on an extraordinary tribute to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. Commemorating the 500th anniversary of this timeless artist-explorer, I undertook the creation of a contemporary Mona Lisa destined for the cosmos. This venture necessitated a departure from my usual artistic techniques, demanding a painting that could withstand the extreme conditions of space. This project spanned seven months, intertwining art, engineering, mathematics, physics, environmental considerations, and more. On December 11, 2019, at 11:03 a.m., the painting embarked on a journey to an altitude of 33.4 km above Earth’s surface, tethered to a biodegradable, helium-filled, fuel-free balloon, marking an extraordinary, pollution-free feat. After an hour in orbit, the painting returned to Earth in the north of England, where it was successfully retrieved. This allowed us to showcase this unique space-traveling artwork in Paris, France, in January 2020, enabling the public to experience firsthand a masterpiece that had ventured beyond our planet.

A man in a track suit stands in front of a painting hangling on a wall
Jisbar at the Eden Gallery show opening. Eden Gallery

Can you tell me a little about how you decide which brands to partner with? Which partnership has been your favorite so far?

While I receive numerous partnership proposals from brands and companies, I exercise discretion in selecting only a handful of projects. Collaborating with brands has been a valuable experience, as it pushes me beyond my creative comfort zone, facilitating continuous learning with each endeavor. However, my choices are guided by several factors, including the ethical use of my art. Affinity plays a significant role; I need to feel a sense of freedom and synergy with collaborators with whom I’ll be investing time. Above all, a collaboration must hold meaning, not only to me but also to the brand and, most importantly, the audience. While I don’t have a single favorite collaboration, I do find collaborations that incorporate a social dimension particularly rewarding, as they contribute to the betterment of the community.

What are your thoughts on NFTs? In researching your work, I came across the NFT collection you launched a few years ago. Would you do it again?

I had the honor of creating the world’s first NFT that physically journeyed into space and returned to Earth as an NFT with a physical component. To simplify, I sent another canvas into space, divided it into multiple sections, and offered each section as an NFT for people to purchase while associating a word with their chosen portion. Subsequently, I inscribed the chosen words onto the canvas, and we sent this collaborative artwork into space with a live broadcast. Upon its return, I physically distributed each section to its respective owner, resulting in a personalized, hand-painted work of art that has journeyed into the cosmos, becoming a part of history. In this instance, the NFT served the purpose of certifying the originality of the work and providing owners the opportunity to customize their own unique pieces. My perspective on NFTs differs from those who have exploited them for financial gain without adding value to their projects. I view NFTs as an extraordinary tool with utilitarian potential rather than a purely monetary one. If you have an ingenious idea, NFTs remain a viable option, especially as the perception of NFTs continues to evolve, revealing the presence of genuine specialists alongside profit-seekers.

Street Pop Artist Jisbar On Reinvention and Rediscovery