A Conversation with Jean Jullien and His Latest Exhibition, "The Aromatics"
Back to Chandran Gallery in San Francisco for his 2nd solo exhibition, Jean Jullien (cover artist, April 2016), will be presenting The Aromatics from May 3rd to June 7th. The artist, whose world-renowned illustrations and character style regularly use a few key elements to highlight the situation or a joke, has now developed a suggestive body of mostly paintings, depicting everything from London’s Kew Gardens, coastal scenes from Western France, to Northern California. Although coming from a very personal place, these images are highly universal as they are evocative of greater environments and familiar situations. Along with mostly medium and smaller size works, Jullien painted his first large-scale painting and we were intrigued to hear about the background of these works, as well as about the current painterly technique he's been so focused on.
Sasha Bogojev: Where is the title of the show coming from?
Jean Jullien: I did a show last year called Le Jardin Bleu, which translates as "the green garden", and stemmed from a lot of travels around the west coast (amongst other locations). I was taken by the vegetation, its scents, mixed with that of the ocean. I like the fact that smell is often described as the strongest sense. Proust's iconic Madeleine became a term to describe it that I often use. So the show vaguely refers to that as its a collection of memories and places I've enjoyed. Even though the paintings are visuals, they serve as memory vehicles.
Some of the themes in the paintings are in line with classic romanticism but in a more naive and muted way. It also made me think about the things that I love in a nonromantic way and how the two words "aromatic" and "romantic" are so close to one another. I could see the loose connection that I was interested in and that found an echo in some of the paintings.
Was it an effort to connect the scent to the already atmospheric works?
For that, I'll have to wait to see and hear people's reactions to the work! I always try to communicate certain things but, because the work is so naive and minimal, the way it comes out is always surprising. I love hearing people's reactions as it's always a balance between getting it right and getting surprised by their interpretations.
What attracts you to portraying the outdoors?
I divide my time between commercial work, often illustration, and painting. The illustration part is often at a desk, with a computer, indoor, etc... So portraying the outdoor has always felt like a catharsis. I like living in the city and working, the fast pace, etc... But I need to get away from it and into outdoors that makes me feel differently.
Were all the images referenced to actual places and how much of the real place are you usually capturing in your work?
Most of the places are real. A lot of them are either in Brittany or in Northern California or near La Rochelle in France. I take a lot of photos that I then synthesize in my sketchbook, then miniaturize in a tiny sketchbook to try to focus on the composition and the key elements that I want to highlight. But because it's painting and not photography, I'm more interested in doing my visual "translation" of it, rather than to try to reproduce it realistically.
How often do you feel that people recognize the location in your illustrations and how important is that for you?
Surprisingly more often than I would expect. But it's only a few people from my friends and family that know these places. It's not that important because I think it's nice that people feel a connection to the painting, even if they don't know the place specifically. It's more about moments, emotions, etc.. And I love when someone from the other end of the world tells me that said painting reminds them of a certain moment in a certain place that is totally distant in time, place and people. It's nice to see what remains, the essence of what I'm trying to communicate and to see how relatable that can be when it works.
Do you ever hide any personal details that your close ones might recognize and could you reveal us any of those?
Ahah, yes I often do actually. Nothing weird really but it's often specific characters in specific clothes. My son is usually depicted with certain clothes and changes as he grows so that the people who know him would go, "Hey I remember that jumper". It's quite an interesting thing for me to try and capture my son while seeing him grow up so graphically. I like to think that, in 20 years time, they can be a sort of photo album for him.
How many pieces have you created for the show and are they seen as a coherent union or rather a group of individual images?
I think I've made about 35 works. They are coherent in the sense that the process behind them is consistent and that they are mostly a collection of memories from the places I've visited and the people I've been with. But obviously, they work individually as well.
How was it working on your biggest canvases to date and do you have any plans with continuing in that direction?
I loved it and definitely plan on doing it again very soon. I love trying new things and after producing mostly pieces of a medium size last year, I'm really excited to work on a larger scale. It's different, and a challenge, but it brings so much. I have to find ways for my texture to remain coherent, by doing a bit of DIY and other things. It's fun.
In which direction would you like to continue your painterly practice and do you have any ideas about further developing your visual language?
I will continue depicting the things that are dear to me and the moments that we can all relate to. But not just. I have a show in Japan later this year for which I want to work on things I've seen there as well as some bits about the fishing industry. I'm also working on a more intimate indoor series based on a few specific houses and, having recently moved to Paris, I feel very inspired by some things there and its cultural heritage and how that translates in our contemporary culture. More soon!
Jean Jullien's exhibition at Chandran Gallery will be on view through June 7, 2019