Q & A: Jean Jullien
Jean Jullien is a French graphic artist famous for his striking visual puns and sharp social commentary. In the wake of the Paris Attacks, Jullien created the Peace for Paris symbol, a CND sign deftly altered to incorporate the Eiffel tower; the symbol looks set to become one of the most iconic images of the 21st century.
Originally from Nantes, now based in London, Jullien works in a variety of art forms including photography, video, illustration, installation and fashion. His brand of bold, pared-down imagery has drawn many admirers and his clients have included The New Yorker, The Guardian, Le Centre Pompidou and Channel 4.
Inevitably, his new children’s book is full of clever twists and visual delight. With each turn of the page, This is Not A Book transforms into something new: a monster, a piano, a laptop. Aimed primarily at under-fives, the book is sure to entertain children and parents alike.
We caught up with the artist to ask a few questions about the book.
Your book is called, quite simply, This Is Not A Book. So how would you describe it?
It’s a toy box with pages.
It's a beautifully designed imaginative tool that asks us to question what the book is and to look at the objects around us differently. How important to you is the sense of play and curiosity in our lives today?
It’s what drives me everyday! I think it’s extremely important to challenge everything you interact with, to not just accept things as they are but to really question them. The relation between content and the object that carries/contains the content is something that I’ve always been interested in. Twisting the existing, finding new uses, and creating surprise: this is what creativity is all about. This book is an invitation to do just that: play!
What other books would you recommend that could inspire us and question our views on the world?
Anything that Tomi Ungerer does. His vision on children books is very progressive and important for me. He just does great stories and doesn’t try to use a condescending tone, doesn’t bother with political correctness but instead relies on his audience’s intelligence to understand his stories. I love the books of Bruno Munari too. I want to do books that can be read by anybody. Not adult books for kids, not children’s books for adults, but something accessible to all. Why should creativity and playfulness be reserved for young ones? Most of my daily practice is based on play, experimentation and accidents. The unexpected is what excites me the most and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one to feel that way. I’ve been lucky to work with fantastic publishers and editors who have given me a lot of creative freedom and trust, people who want to see exciting books being made.
Your website features your online portfolio and shows that you’ve worked across a number of mediums, from murals to book jackets, to now this book in its entirety. Is there still a medium for your art that you’d like to explore?
I would love to do sculpture. I play around a lot with paper characters, cut outs etc... but always on a rather small scale. I'd love to see them blown up, and to play with texture and materials. The idea of drawing in volume is something that I'm really attracted towards. I've also been toying with the idea of a graphic novel. I've been planning it for a while, but I want to do it right, so it's going to take a bit more time than what I normally do.
What is your working process like? Do you carry a sketchbook with you to capture any moments of inspiration? Do you prefer to work at a particular time of day or place?
It varies but most of my work is indeed based on observation. If something makes me tick, I'll keep it in mind and see what I can make of it. A lot of my work tries to play humorously on a situation that might not originally be, it's kind of therapeutical! I love working in my studio, as I share it with friends. But that's more for commercial works. For my own personal projects, I'm happier outside, on the go. I love drawing in my sketchbook when I'm travelling, this always triggers new ideas.
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