With the launch party for issue seven of the UO zine, SHEET taking place at Studio Hato tomorrow night, we took the time to catch up with contributor and graphic artist, Jean Jullien. His practice is all-encompassing, from illustration to photography, video, installations, books, posters and clothing; he has a bold and colourful graphic style. Having studied at both Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art, his prolific body of work focuses on the humour of bizarre human relationships, society and modern living.
UO: First things first, how did you get into graphic design?
I always drew and originally wanted to work in animation but my grades were too bad so I couldn’t get into any school. I ended up in a very practical course in the rather small city of Quimper. I went there reluctantly but met some fantastic people and some passionate teachers who showed me the work of giants like Saul Bass, Alan Fletcher or Paul Rand. It taught me that you don’t have to be a gallery artist to create great things. Even more, that practicality is a challenging asset that helps designers push boundaries and bring excitement and creativity to everyday life. Motivated by this discovery, I carried on to study graphic design at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art in London where I experimented with mediums and slowly added a lot of playfulness and drawing into my designs until my current practice took its current shape.
UO: You seem to work across a lot of different mediums – which do you feel allows you to express yourself the fullest? Do you have a preference?
Not really, I like to keep it as playful as possible. When I have an idea, I sketch it out and then see what seems to be the best/ most exciting way to bring it to life. A drawing of a man sitting as a chair is fun, but turning it into an actual chair is much more fun I think.
UO: You’ve worked on a lot of collaborations – which has been the most enjoyable?
I really enjoy working with people, but I haven’t always enjoyed it. I used to find it difficult to make room for someone else. I thought it would lessen the work, that I could not claim ownership of it, hence not be proud of it. But over the years I’ve worked with many people and it always enhanced the work produced, because of the addition of skill sets of course. It made me realise that ‘ownership’ matters very little as long as the result is good.
One key collaboration is the one I have with my brother Nicolas, under the moniker Jullien Brothers. We grew up together watching the same stuff on TV, playing the same video games, etc… He plays music and does animation, I draw things: we’re very complementary.
UO: A lot of your work is based on political and social commentary – what is it that drives you to create work around these topics?
I’ve always found it fascinating that strong images can have an effect on people and makes things happen. Be it Renaissance art, Propaganda, May 68, underground zines: If you have a message and you deliver it well, it will touch people. It’s a fantastic tool and a dangerous weapon. In my opinion, it’s a bit like a wolf in a sheep’s skin in the sense that drawing is often seen as non-credible in terms of medium of expression: it is a hobby, a nice thing to look at. But in reality I think it taps into something that photography, CGI or other visual langages don’t tap into. It’s intimate, simple, friendly. It has a great seductive aspect that is key to create a dialogue. That’s why my work looks so naive and simple (that and the fact that my drawing skills are incredibly limited…), it allows me to reach anyone, and to then communicate.
UO: If you feel creatively blocked, what do you do to get the creative juices flowing?
I take a sketchbook and I get out of the studio. My desk is where I’m the most efficient in terms of production because I have most of my tools but like all creatives I often need inspiration and I usually get it by going out and observing people and things around me.
It’s important for me to keep a personal practice, that is free from feedback and goals. To do things just for fun, that’s where accidents happen and that’s what makes my practice evolve: the unexpected. I then use the things I’ve learnt in my professional practice.
UO: What inspires you and why?
People inspire me, as well as the world around me. Popular culture, the internet, politics. My practice is based on communicating ideas to people, it is key that I know the world we live in to do so efficiently.
UO: The theme for this issue of Sheet is ‘Learning’ can you tell us a little about what that means to you?
It’s something I constantly struggle with. My brain’s not wired in a way that allows for a lot of learning. I’ve always struggled at school with that and still do today. There are a thousand practical things I wish I could learn. Instead, I seem to sometimes pick things up along the way and manage to remember them!
UO: How did the theme ‘Learning’ inform your decision about what to create for the magazine?
I wanted something playful and engaging, as learning/teaching should be. So I did this very practical poster in which you can cut out the face and put yours in. It’s a tongue in cheek political call to action reflecting on the current situation and the need for more Peoplitics.
Celebrate the launch of SHEET issue seven and head down to the launch party at Studio Hato on 16th July from 6pm – 9pm.