Jean Jullien is a man of the world. Hailing from France, he's zig-zags the world, expressing himself as an artist, graphic designer, cartoonist, sculpture, author, and soon to be tv show director. While his exquisite Instagram feed delivers daily humor, we caught up with him to delve deeper into the vast amount of work he creates, his thoughts on audiences, and so much more...
Breakfast: Hi Jean! Want to just tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jean: My name is Jean Jullien, I’m 33 years old, and I’m an illustrator. I’m from Brittany, France, and I’ve been living and working in London for the past 10 years. I moved there to study: I did a masters at the Royal College of Arts, and then I stayed because of my friends and my wife, so a lot of my life is there now. I’m now hoping to move to Los Angeles soon to work on some projects.
B: What’s your creative process… When you have an idea, how do you articulate it? How do you get it on paper?
J: It varies a lot, I’ve always tried to keep a nice divide between commercial work to sustain a living and get stuff out there, and then keep a certain personal practice. So the commercial work is quite simple, it’s like problem solving. The client brings you a brief and asks you to come up with the best creative answer, so I do that and that’s more straight-forward I suppose. The rest of my work is more observation based. I’ve done a lot of things that are a bit more like comedy… almost like stand up comedy. You find a situation that really annoys you, and then you try to come up with a comedic way of retelling the story, so instead of being grumpy all the time and complaining I try to make fun of the situations that irritates me and see if other people can relate. So, yeah, that’s very much that, observing something and coming up with an idea. But since I’ve done so much commercial work and there’s a certain routine, I suppose to have the studio and come in and sit down at the desk every morning, I try to do something like a creative gymnastic where I just look at things around my desk or stuff I pick up on the street and I just try to play with it.
B: I feel like a majority of the work I see from you is very personal and casual. I almost have a hard time finding your commercial work.
J: Commercial work definitely sustains me. I do gallery work as well, but that’s not necessarily what sustains me, yet, hopefully some day it will. But, on social media I usually try to share more personal stuff. I think we live in a world where we see stuff being sold to you everywhere, and I figure that’s in social media, which represents something a bit personal - you check it on your own personal time, in your bed or on the toilet or whatever- I figure you maybe want a break from people trying to sell you stuff, so usually I try to keep it personal and people react more to it. The feedback that I’ve received is that people find it to be a nice thing, they feel like you’re just putting something out that to make them laugh or communicate into something a bit sincere about that, which I think people really appreciate. The commercial work is different and out there, but I feel like because it’s commercial it’s done for something and the people that commission me already sell it so I don’t need to do it.
M: I’ve been following you for a couple years… is it my imagination or are you starting to explore mediums rapidly, such as working with 3-dimensional surfaces and installations?
J: It’s something that I’ve always done. I’ve always studied graphic design and when I started experimenting with paper and stuff like that, because of efficiency, I started pursuing more drawing, steering away from being material driven. But now, I get bored of something, so I try to jump to different things to experiment, and I find that if I’m not bored, people are not bored. It’s very much based on spontaneity, what I feel like trying, where I am… so for example, last year I was traveling every two weeks, because the situations are different, the tools that you have at your disposition are very different, and that triggers a lot more experimentation. that is something that I really like.
B: Aside from coming to Los Angeles for a show, what is the main reason you’re traveling? Inspiration? Or are you constantly connecting jobs?
J: It’s usually connecting jobs. When I’m invited to do a talk or a show, I travel for that. I really enjoy it. I had a kid recently, which has made me more sedentary, which has also been very interesting and nice to feel like I can relax. But yeah, moving to LA soon will hopefully bring back more experimentation.
B: In your work, it sounds like you find a great deal of pleasure making your work relatable to the common person…
J: Yes, that’s very important to me. I grew up reading a lot of comic books, watching a lot of cartoons, you know pop culture in general. So something that’s very important to me, the fact that it’s culture, is that it’s not just for people who’ve got access to it because they are cultured… it’s that it is accessible to everyone and you can find it. The notion of practical design or practical culture is something that I’m very interested in as well. So skateboarding, for example, is something that really blew my mind. I started collecting the Chocolate Skateboard decks when I was a teenager and skating a lot, and the fact that I could put so much attention to designs that were essentially going to be destroyed is something that I’ve always loved. Or the culture of French poster design and advertising in the street at the time in which they were basically just paintings with a logo… I really like this idea, how accessible it was to everyone. That’s maybe why I have such an incentive to keep on doing commercial work despite the fact that we live in a world where you can very much do your own thing and communicate it. I really like the fact that by using the networks of your clients or the platforms of exposure that they use in the commercial world, you access very different people, and that’s something that is very good to me.
B: Are you constantly pushing to grow your art and challenge yourself? Or are you focusing more on traversing subject matter? What’s the main point of growth in your work?
J: I’m more into trying new things in progression, and less so jumping from one thing to the other constantly. For example, I had a show in Belgium last week and that’s something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. I do a lot on social media with little paper characters and things like that, and I’ve had a few shows trying to see how far I can stretch my visual language. If I can do the same character on paper, on a chair, on a sculpture. I just really like the idea of playing without pushing the limit of a language that I’ve tried to come up with. So sculpture is something I’ve always wanted to do and a sculpture can be made of paper, of wood, of metal… so how does that translate the same idea that you want to say and what are the differences? A TV series is definitely one thing that I want to explore because I grew up on it, and its more of a narrative than just doing a poster in the street or something like that. Also, I’m working on a graphic novel at the moment. So, it’s always the same concept that I’ve got ideas that I want to communicate, so I think that, what is the guy going to say? What is he going to think? Can he relate to it? Does that upset him? Does that make him feel better? Does that comfort him? I think that some mediums apply to certain people, and not all mediums speak to everyone. So for example, my show at Heavy Weight is a skateboard show, so that’s going to apply to a very certain audience. And I’ve noticed that the same cartoon that I would put on a skateboard, if I post that online then only certain people will react, whereas if I just post the drawing without the medium much more people are going to react to it. So I’m very interested in what communicates to who and how...
B: You’re very well-received and popular on social media. Do you find that it’s better at this point to only put up what makes you happiest, or to read the audience that follows you and give them what they want?
J: It’s difficult because I’m not in an ivory tower. I think that if you communicate to people, some people think that their opinion is holy, where as I very much feel that, from growing up and living in a city, and I’ve always enjoyed the notion of civilization, of society living together. And I feel like I’ve always fed and grown from talking to people and exchanging, so I feel like it’s very important. That being said, you don’t want to be a crowd pleaser. That’s something I’ve noticed, from the number of people choosing to follow my work on social media: the more it grows, the more it’s difficult to speak to everyone. So sometimes there are elements of, not censorship, but… some stuff that you know are not going to communicate. And it’s not necessarily the fact that it’s not going to be successful, it’s just that if you have a platform like that, maybe it’s more interesting to try to use it so you can reach people from everywhere. The fact that it’s the opposite of a niche, in a way, it’s mainstream media, but you can use it as a Trojan Horse. You can try to speak to everyone. Not everything speaks to everyone, so you have to navigate that all without being a crowd pleaser, because your content becomes a bit dull if it’s dictated by what’s successful and you don’t decide what’s successful.
B: Do you feel like social media is your bread and butter, as a centrical focus of your time and energy?
J: It has been for a couple of years. Its become very intense, and I don’t know if it’s because it has truly become intense or because I had a baby. But I feel like this über-fast pace of creating and also having more of this crowd-pleasing debate becoming quite intense… I feel like I don’t need it, and I can’t sustain it forever. I can do it now, but I know that I can do better by changing my rhythm. Doing a TV show, a gallery show, or a graphic novel is something that requires more time which is a broader notion I’m interested in. I’m not sure if it’s going to be better, but it’s going to be different and for me and more interesting. That being said, I don’t know if there’s going to be a different form of social media in 5 years, in which case I might want to jump back into something very fast-paced because I would be excited or bored by its new novelty. I think that it’s far from a straight course, but it’s never been a straight course for me, and I’ve always enjoyed that. I enjoy change of rhythm.
B: It seems like right now you have your fingers in every pot possible, you also have a young family, and you’re kind of a citizen of the world. Are there any roadblocks or any issues with being spread this widely? Or are you just full steam ahead and having a great time?
J: The only roadblocks are my own misgivings about things. Like the intensity of social media. We live in a time where everyone has a say in everything, has an opinion on everything, and everyone’s upset at everyone for having an opinion about everything. In a way, its a little bit nonsensical, as it is fantastically democratic and yet one of my roadblocks is that I find it increasingly complicated to navigate this landscape. I try to do positive things. I try to make people laugh. And humbly, I try to make them think as much as they make me think. I don’t want to be naive or to dumb down everything, but I very much believe that we’ve got enough shit not to create negative work. So something I’ve been trying to aim toward, is to create content that is not acidic and yet not too naïve either, so comedy has been very motivating and engaging as inspiration, like Seinfeld or Larry David. Because it’s not stupid, it’s not easy, it’s not mainstream, but it’s not mean for the purpose of being mean. There’s something very beautiful in that, and that’s something where I would like to go more. Writing a TV show or doing a graphic novel is a way for me to explore this more, as it will take more time to set up a little stage and have the story be told.
B: As a kid watching Seinfield, it took me a little while to realize that every single episode is about nothing. Some of the jokes can be so mean or the humor can be so dark, but no matter what it’s ultimately about northing.
J: What’s interesting about Seinfeld and about the nothingness of it, is that I think social media is the equivalent, in a sense that it’s about nothing and everything at the same time. It’s basically blurting out what you do. It’s like live documentation more than journalism. I think comedy is a fantastic journalistic approach to the everyday. You have one way where people just say what they do, and then what I try to do is discuss what we do.
B: You mentioned that you grew up watching TV and reading comic books, which seem to be grand inspirations to you. But who or what is truly inspiring you right now?
J: Sadly, right now, it’s not so much new people, but it’s people I’ve always been around. There’s a French cartoonist named Jean-Jacques Sempé, who I’ve always been in absolute awe of. He started working in the 50’s or 60’s and he still does it now. His work is super beautiful, poetic, acidic, comedy. It’s gorgeous to look at, but it’s also just in the way he’s making fun of the mundane and the every day. I would say this is directly something I look up to without trying to do the same thing, but there’s a sharp poetry that I really like and admire about that. Then people like Larry David, someone that I look up to, because it’s the same. It’s a bit harsher but it’s the same idea of discussing the everyday. I would say that’s the immediate two people that I can think about.
B: You mentioned your interest and inspiration from skateboarding…
J: The fact that they (Heavy Weight, a skateboarding-themed gallery) would ask someone who supposedly has nothing to do with skateboards, just because they like the imagery, and think that would be nice to put on a skateboard is fantastic. You can just put the logo on, or you can also put something funny, beautiful, whatever you want to call it. This approach is not a personal one, but an overall mentality that you have in counter-culture. It’s in skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding… that’s something that’s always been inspiring for me.
B: Do you mind recapping what you’re exploring with the TV show and the graphic novel?
J: The TV show is a very much like what I do normally, my images are very naïve, colorful, bold and simple. Then there is maybe a second level of reading, which is more about the content, which tries to say something. We’ll be touching subjects like gender definition, food habits, liberalism, religion, politics… but without being deceitful. I think that’s the best way. The series is like the Simpsons or Family Guy, its funny, but might have moments that are quite harsh. Ultimately, it looks like a cartoon but touches more adult subjects without having to swear, because that’s not something I do in general. I try not to be crass or hateful or violent, that’s just not my language. The graphic novel is a bit different: it’s in three volumes, while it follows the story of one character. There’s hints of personal experiences in it. It’s a character in his 20’s to early 30’s when he’s working in advertising and dating and stuff like that. Eventually he meets someone. The second volume is him and his family life as an adult and his kids growing up, while the third part is him as an older person, and there will be a certain twist to it. It will be more than comedy, so in that sense it might be a bit different from what I try to do. Maybe being a bit darker without being too negative.
B: Lastly, what about yourself? What’s next for you? I know you said moving to Los Angeles for six months…
J: Well, my wife is British so at the moment with the Brexit it’s all a bit complicated, but I’m from France and she’s always been keen to go to France. We might go back to London or we might go to France. I don’t quite know. I also like the fact that my job gives me to the freedom to meet people and try things, experience a different life, and I try to take that with my family as well.