Interview: JEAN JULLIEN on ‘In Case of Ubiquity’

April 29, 2015

Interview: JEAN JULLIEN on ‘In Case of Ubiquity’

Throughout the month of May we’re hosting French illustrator and graphic designer Jean Jullien‘s installation ‘In Case of Ubiquity’. Jean brought his signature style and humor to our gallery to create a one-of-a-kind painting that interacts with the New York City skyline from 22 stories above ground. Discover the stories behind ‘In Case of Ubiquity’, his work & inspiration, and his next artistic projects.  

Q: What was your motivation to do a residency in New York?

I’ve been working with people in New York for quite a while. So it was a good opportunity to break from my routine and re-shuffle the cards a bit. I’m getting face-to-face with people that I’ve been working with, but haven’t properly met. I find getting into a new environment also stimulates me. I work a lot with what’s around me so being out of my comfort zone works really well for what I do.

Q:  What’s the story behind this installation?

A:  It’s a visual diary of the past six months of my life in New York with my wife. It’s a capsule of my practice as well. It’s very much the kind of work I prefer to do and how I prefer to do it.  I take my experiences and then, because I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, interpret all the things that make me tick or annoy me, or the harsh critic side of my perception, and gather them all into a visual piece.  But I try to add enough humor so it doesn’t feel like just a rant and I have something playful and fun in the end.  And it’s an amazing view that I wanted to make the most of.  It was fun to talk about specific experiences that all occurred in one place, and to be able to actually have that place in the background as you’re reading about the experiences.

Q:  As far your process for this installation, did you have it all planned out ahead of time?

A: There are a few recurring themes, larger themes that I knew I wanted to include like food, the change between Manhattan andBrooklyn, art museums, people’s obsessions with dogs and things like that. I started with that and then it sort of developed into commentaries and things that popped in my mind as I was looking at the city. I like to try to be as spontaneous as possible. Graphically there are mistakes and in the way I do things, there are mistakes as well, but because I don’t necessarily try to focus on one final piece, it’s more of a generic creative personality.  It’s how I present what I do.  There’s a graphic style, but I’m more interested in exchanging ideas and commentaries and humor with people, no matter what shape it takes.

It’s also a fantastic view and I wanted to be able to play with that. It’s something that I’ve been doing for a while as well. Just doodling on windows and things like that. You’ve got the image that you create and then there is a second bit of narrative going on with the perception of what’s behind the illustration and how the two interact. I’ve noticed that people react to it quite well. I wanted to explore that into a much bigger installation and this was the perfect view of New York.

11138530_2156966414350537_4364811773732140197_nQ: Why didn’t you use any color in the window installation? 

A: I used white so that it wouldn’t be too intrusive or too imposing and you can look through the window and still see the view. Then your eyes shift focus and you see something else and switch between one or the other quite easily. Some of the pieces work a little bit more with perspective, so I wanted the opportunity to play with that.

Q: Where you get the quotes in your work?

A:  That’s usually off the top of my head.  I think more about the idea than the specific text.

Q:  People have commented that for being here for such a short time you know an awful lot about New York.

A: Proper New Yorkers might come and say, “Well, what the hell is all that about? He’s got it all wrong”, but I think it’s more of a subjective story. This is just my perception of the New York experience as a foreigner who has been dreaming about it, or knew a certain version of New York through popular culture and the media, and then finally experiencing it for myself. It’s basically how the sort-of fabled versions I made up in my mind compare to the real thing.

Q:  We’ve displayed a number of prints to accompany the installation.  What’s your process for print work?

A:  I usually draw everything on paper with a brush and then I scan it and add color after that. It’s important for me to keep the mistakes of the brush because I think there’s something quite personal about that. I’ve never been very skilled so I use the mistake aspect as a signature essentially.

Q:  What’s your favorite medium?_DSC1823

A:  I always prefer installations in my head because it sounds quirkier and more ambitious. It’s a medium where every single one is different so there’s an idea of challenge and excitement about that. I often get more disappointed with installations though because I have such a limited skill set, so that in the end I set myself to fail by trying to have crazy projects and realizing I can’t really do them.  But I love drawing as well. That’s the sort of backbone of everything that I do. Even though I don’t get as excited about it as an installation maybe, in the end when I get to do it I love it.

Q: How did you develop your style and perspective?

A:  I used to always carry around sketchbooks. It’s really just observation. I’d be drawing people and then note little commentaries. It was very much like these windows. In terms of developing more graphic images I try to communicate these thoughts, but without being too loud about it, so it is something friendly and inviting. I try to hint at my commentaries instead of imposing my commentary on things and leave an open door for interpretation. So it’s my way of graphically engaging people into a discussion. I’m hinting at my opinion and then trying to see what other people make of that opinion.

NMC_0326-300x200I’m always interested in hearing others interpretations. I try to have something graphic and quite seductive or quite appealing on first glance. And then, to have a second more hidden meaning in a way. But there is definitely room for interpretation and that’s what makes it fun. For the garbage can piece, this one is not a clever as some people think it is. It’s a simple graphic take on ‘Delete file’.

Q:  A lot of your work references technology and social media. How do you feel about using social media to promote your work and/or share ideas?

A:  The fact that it’s such an important part of my practice is mainly because it’s taken a large place in society.  And it is really annoying.  Seeing people on the phone all the time and seeing people on tablets. The social media behaviors that go on. The reason I talk about it so much is because I do it so much.  I text at night and I’m focused on my screen when I take the subway and all that. I’m as bad as anyone else and I thought that I could poke fun at it since I was so consumed with it. I think it’s a development in society.  It’s not as alarming as some people think it is. It’s just a funny next step in social evolution that we’re getting used to, so there are a lot of extreme behaviors.

_DSC1825Whenever there’s new technology some people go as far as they can to test the limits. So there’s a bit of that. You can basically see any social situation and add a phone now and the situation will develop into something more in people’s interpretation.  You know, if you’ve got dinner and have people looking down not talking, you’ve got sort of a visual gag in itself.  But if you add the fact that they’re both looking down at their phone it sort of echo’s the idea and makes it so much more current.

Q: Have you ever got in trouble with your art?

Yeah. Well, on social media you post stuff and people get very agitated. Some people misinterpret what I’m trying to say. I drew a picture recently off the top of my head of Madonna. She’s wearing the Vogue, triangular bra thing and she’s holding a walking aid. A lot of women and other people thought it was extremely insulting to women in their 60’s and that I was saying women in their 60’s can’t be sexy. They sort-of missed the point. It was more of just a tongue in cheek take at what will become of Madonna if she carries on trying to be as slutty sexy as she used to be when she was 20. She’s extremely talented and there is so much more that she can do. You can be sexy, without being that kind of sexy. I just thought it was funny it play with it. Most people got it, only a couple got really agitated. But, I don’t mind. It’s fine.

Jean_Julien_01_035Q: If you weren’t an artist what else would you do?

A: I would like to be a journalist I think. I like to think that what I do or the angle that I take with illustration has a hint of that. It’s looking at the world and trying to decipher what’s happening and then trying to communicate and relate what’s happening to a larger audience.

Q:  So what’s next for you?

A: I work a lot with my younger brother Nico, who does animation.  He’s also a musician. We started by doing his music videos together, and it has gradually developed into sort of an animation duo. We call ourselves ‘The Jullien Brothers’.  We’re working at the moment on an animated series. It’s a really exciting project because it’s the culmination of our collaboration.  It takes a lot from my practice in the sense that it talks about current topics, but it’s also stepping into a pretty new, universally acknowledged discipline which is American cartoons, like South Park, The Simpsons, and all of that.  You have codes and timing that we’re very unfamiliar with.   We’re really excited to see how our work bends and transforms going into that sort of mold.

22303_2158464437534068_4891449161174787302_nI also have quite a few exhibitions in Europe over the next few months.  I have one in Amsterdam, where we’re going to do a giant dog.  I have a food show in Paris, where I’ll be working with chocolate makers and burger makers, which is kind of a dream.  And then a show in Paris that will be an animation with my brother again.  Then I’m open to having another show in New York hopefully!


‘In Case of Ubiquity’ is on exhibition at the Industrial Color Brands Gallery throughout the month of May 2015.  For more behind the scenes, check out the gallery below and photos from the opening reception photo booth.

In addition to asking the ‘tough’ questions, we asked the teams from Fast Ashleys Studios, Industrial Color, and globaledit what they wanted to know about Jean and his work.  Check out the speed round Q&A.