Jean Jullien is a London based French graphic designer whose world-shaking illustration, Peace For Paris, touched millions of souls under the most tragic circumstances. Creating coherent yet eclectic body of work, Jean's practice ranges from illustration to photography, video, costumes, installations, books, posters, and clothing. We discussed his creative philosophy, the invasion of social media, and, of course, Peace For Paris.
Being seduced by the idea of a different culture, you have chosen Central Saint Martins over the School of Fine Arts (École des Beaux-Arts) in Paris. What did that experience give you? What difference do you see in education systems in London and Paris?
I had a shorted experience of the French higher education system, so I couldn't speak in equivalent, but my years of studying in France were very pragmatic and practical. I learnt everything in terms of composition, colors, typography, etc. This gave me a knowledge that could have led me to a rather straightforward career had I pursued in France, but I chose London for the exciting prospect of discovering a new environment and not really knowing what I'd find. Central Saint Martins felt like a giant playground where learning was based on autonomy and mistake making (in a good way). There I felt like I could experiment and play with aforementioned skills that I had been taught in my previous courses. So, in that sense, I think that both experiences completed each other perfectly. But if I had to compare them, I would say that one was more efficiency-driven and the other one more chaotic and playful. My current practice is a mix of both.
I like that you use a brush for, as you call it, A Daily Visual Commentary, to communicate about life. How did you come up with this approach?
In a very organic way. I found out pretty early on that I wasn't good at learning new things, new skills and technics to enhance my drawing. With that in mind, I focused on mastering the little I had been given. So I practiced a lot, I do it every day. It's like gymnastics, you exercise this creative muscle everyday to keep it fit enough. This is merely a way for me to be able to express fluidly what springs to my mind. I would say that 50% of my practice is based on observing what's going on around me, trying to articulate something communicative and engaging based on the things that I see and that make me tick. These visual commentaries are the graphic rants of a curmudgeon diluted in a playful manner to engage the viewer in a dialogue.
The New York Times, Colette, Pitchfork, Nike – the list of your clients is very impressive. What should a project have to it to attract your attention and make it exciting?
Oh, anything is exciting! I tend to cumulate projects and try to juggle with as many different things as possible to keep it exciting. So I usually have a few commercial, editorial and personal projects on the stove. It's a matter of balance: if I do a lot of advertising, I'll get really excited by an exhibition offer; if I do a lot of personal projects, I'll get excited by teaming up with a brand or agency to create a collaboration. But there are things that would, at the moment, really trigger my excitement: a public sculpture, furniture design, or working with Popeye magazine or New Yorker.
Social media has become almost as important to our everyday lives as breathing. Although SM is quite controversial by its nature, I think we're witnessing a very interesting time. Being an artist myself, I feel it's really important to find that balance between real psychical connection with your craft and its online representation. How do you feel about the invasion of social media these days?
I'm not too scared of it, to be honest. I've read a lot of scaremongering about "this" generation gone out of control with social media, etc. I think it's just the Zeitgeist, it will pass. It happens every time there is a techno-socio-cultural revolution: people struggle to master it, but the younger generation growing up with it ends up naturally more comfortable with it. Their elders grow wary of the gap, slowly forming between them and this new generation that seems to master something they couldn't.
That being said, I think social media needs to be handled with care as it's not just a practical technology. It's carefully and constantly re-designed to adapt to its users so that they fill their needs (or even anticipate them) to the point of becoming a logical and inseparable companion. That's a potentially dangerous element of uniformization due to its great ubiquity; that should not be used for profit or control.
I wanted to talk about "US", your 2014 series of modern life observations. I really enjoyed this one and its wittiness with a capital W. How did this project come about?
"US" was the cloturing show of the beloved East London gallery, Kemistry. I had my show "Allo?" at this gallery a while ago, so it seemed logical to do something that would echo it in some ways. While "Allo?" was focused on social and asocial behaviors through the spectrum of digital media and devices, with "US" I tried to explore scenes of the everyday, regardless of whether technology was involved or not. The more I did images involving mobile phones and tablets, the more I realized that these devices were only there as a time marker and that the comedy existed, regardless of them. So "US" was me trying to explore something less demographically specific and more universal, in a way. It was more focused on the sweet things and quirks of the everyday.
On the night of the attacks in Saint-Denis, I was at the classical music concert in Philadelphia. The host suggested to pray for Paris and dedicate the concert to the victims and their relatives. A couple of days later, your illustration was everywhere – people all over the world were showing tremendous support. Where were you when it happened? What did you feel when your realized your artwork has become a symbol of such a tragic yet historic moment?
Oddly enough, when I heard the news, it was the first day of my vacation in the Caribbean. I had turned on the radio and listened horrified to the atrocities that had just been committed. I went online to check if my friends and family were ok. Then I saw all the messages of support and solidarity and I felt the need to get involved in the same way as we all did. But I'm more comfortable with drawing, so instead of writing something, I took a pen and a paper and drew the first thing that came to my mind: a simple sign, merging the universal symbol of peace and the iconic Eiffel Tower of Paris. It was very sincere and unplanned. When my phone started acting crazy with notifications, I realized that people had responded to it and seemed to have found it helpful in some ways.
What artists inspire you and what projects are you working on at the moment?
Many people inspire me or excite me, but, to be honest, I try to be careful not to look too much. I keep tab on new artists and other generally great masters, but I don't think I'm overly geeky about it. I find it to be a bit of a buzzkill. My favorite illustrator is Yann Le Bec, the world will one day know his greatness, but that won't be thanks to him as he's terribly secretive. I love Daniel Frost, Gwendal Le Bec, Yu Nagaba, Josh Cochran, Andy Rementer, Christophe Blain, Riad Sattouf, Hockney, Sempé, Ungerer, Savignac, Matisse, and many, many others.
At the moment I'm finishing a series for Kitsuné, the record and fashion label for a show next week in Paris. I also have a show next week in Amsterdam with my brother Nico, that should be very fun. I'm working on a book series with Phaidon and clothing line with a new Japanese label, as well as doing some work for the Guardian, Petit Bateau, Verizon, Case Studyo, and many other clients. But one of the things that I'm really excited about is an original TV series created by my brother Nico and I, which should get into full production in early 2016 in Los Angeles.