Jean Jullien’s illustrations are instantly recognisable, well observed and often very funny. His simple black line drawings remark on this modern life, whether it is to poke fun at his and our relationship with the digital world, our relationships with each other or in the case of his ‘Peace For Paris’ illustration, serve to remind us, in the simplest of ways, of our humanity and togetherness.
Jean invited They Made This and photographer Luke Stephenson into his East London studio recently, where we discovered his first memory of drawing involved spears, pterodactyls and prehistoric men, how a move to London introduced him to the playful work of Saul Bass, Paul Rand and M/M Paris, his career changing Allo? Exhibition at Kemistry Gallery, the huge media impact of his Peace For Paris illustration, his imminent move to Los Angeles with his Brother and why a good Moebius comic is as good as a good Matisse.
What is your earliest memory of drawing?
It was an epic battle scene between prehistoric men and dinosaurs. There were spears, pterodactyls and a lot of blood. It was a long landscape format drawn with coloured pens on foam board. My Dad kept it above the garage door for 15 years before they moved and I know he still has it now. My friend Mathieu Zayat had just taught me to draw eyes in a cool new way, so I was eager to use it in this battle scene.
Was there a lot of art in your house growing up?
Definitely. My mom is an architect and a curator, she had a lot of love for Matisse, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Vuillard, Mies van der Rohe, Jasper Morrison, Terrence Conran, etc.. My dad on the other hand was really into music and Bande Dessinée. So in a way I grew up surrounded by both extremities of the art spectrum: the gallery one and the popular one, which was very healthy. I learned early on that a good Moebius comic was as good as a good Matisse.
You studied Graphic Design in France, what did you do next?
I moved to London to do a Bachelor in Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins for three years followed by a Master in Communication Art and Design at the Royal College of Art. I did a pretty pragmatic course in France, that seemed dull at first but was run by very good teachers, passionate practitioners that introduced me to the playful work of people like Saul Bass, Paul Rand or M/M Paris.
There I understood the fun of working for everyday life and not just galleries and books. I became fascinated by this notion of popular art, of bringing creativity into the everyday. I learned the craft of design there, how to compose an image, levels of reading, colours, etc. All I needed was a bit more time to experiment with what I had learned. And that’s what I found in London: a giant playground. I met people from all over the world and St Martins really encouraged experimentation and moving between disciplines. It’s there that my practice was born.
In 2013 you had your first solo exhibition, 'Allo?' shown at Kemistry, what impact did that have on your career at the time?
I was the first time I shared my work as a series about a certain theme so it was quite interesting for me to see how legible and articulated it was or wasn’t. It was like a visual argumentation about a certain problematic and its efficiency would be judged on whether people would engage with it or not whether it would communicate well enough.
It was based on social and asocial behaviours, on smartphones, digital medias, etc… Being an avid user of my phone, laptop, and any other modern form of communication, I was mainly poking fun at my own inability to refrain myself from overdoing it, rather than denunciating a contemporary society gone mad or whatever. I was exposing my own ridicule and trying to see if people could relate, which they seemed to do. It was fantastic and confirmed a way of working I was really enjoying, based on observation and exchange. My work is all about communicating ideas to people and see if it can generate an exchange, a dialogue. 'Allo?' reinforced my will to do so.
Later that year you moved to New York, how did that evolve your work?
I grew up watching a lot of american cartoons and movies and reading a lot of comic books, listening to american music, etc… I’ve always been a bit fascinated by New York’s ability to be a self sustainable culture, without being narcissistic. The way it could create legends and narratives about its worst parts, how it managed to create pop culture from its crime and dark corners, from heroine chic to Warhol, Basquiat, The T.M.N.T, Taxi Driver, Daredevil and many many more.
Going to New York was like walking in a city I grew up imagining in a certain way, and realising it was exactly that way. It felt incredibly familiar and immensely inspiring. There is also a very palpable enthusiast that is very stimulating, people seem to be ready and willing for anything, which makes you try a lot more than usual. the people that I met were very generous with their time and network, suggesting that I met that guy and that other one. At first I was suspicious, but they always follow through and help you make connections. It took my practice in so many different directions that I hadn’t had the opportunity to explore before.
In New York, I felt that illustration wasn’t necessarily a discipline, but more of a tool that could be used in any other discipline: sculpture, clothing, installation, etc… I was also in a new environment, out of my comfort zone, which always works much better for me. I just need a brush pen, a sketchbook and a laptop to work really. And actually, the less I use the book and computer, the better off. I can then focus on using drawing as an alphabet and try to speak as many different creative languages as possible. Which is exactly what I did in NYC.
You recently won the ADCE Creative Distinction Award for your heartfelt symbol 'Peace for Paris'. Your symbol created a huge impact within the media. How did you feel about the attention it brought?
I was a bit wary to receive an award for it (although very humbled and flattered) as I didn’t draw this symbol in a work frame of mind.
It was an instinctive reaction, on a personal level, not a carefully designed message. But because I shared it on the same platform I normally share work on, it might have seem a bit confusing. That’s why I tried to answer questions people had, to clarify things. I think people got it.
When the ADCE approached me, I told them I didn’t want to benefit from it, that it was born from a tragedy. They were very understanding but insisted that it was less about me and more about highlighting the importance of graphic design and creativity in general working for society, for the greater good. That’s something I really get behind.
Tell us about your move to LA later this year?
My brother and I have created a TV series and we’ve been lucky to sign to wonderful producers in Los Angeles so I’m going there to make things happen! But I also find it very healthy personally and creatively to move around regularly, to discover new places, new ways of living, etc… It’s great for inspiration and L.A is such an exciting place both for what the city has to offer and for its surroundings: desert, ocean, mountain, etc. I’m really excited by the move.
Finally what are you listening to in your studio at the minute?
Sonic Youth, The Mouldy Peaches, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, Riton, John Cooper Clarke and Will Butler.