by Eva Glettner
French-born, NYC-based artist Jean Jullien’s first US solo show, “Poor Traits,” opens tonight at LA’s HVW8 Gallery. It’s already been an extremely busy year for Jullien, whose illustrations grace pages of magazines and newspapers worldwide. Taking time from his editorial calendar to work “Poor Traits” has been a true labor of love—for the artist and his friends and family. For the project, Jullien asked his pals to submit self-portraits and he then translated them (facial characteristics and emotions alike) with his unique touch. The result is an earnest and heartfelt snapshot of his subjects that is equal parts a physiological and psychological study. It is an exploration of what makes a character.
Jullien explains that the significance of the show’s name as “a reference to my admitted lack of technical skills. I’ve never focused on achieving realism, I’ve always tried to simplify things and keep a graphic language that would be humble enough to speak to a large audience, rid of stylistic definitions that would make it lean more towards a certain demographic or genre. I want to appeal to anyone, literally.”
The show—which is, indeed, appealing—includes black and white drawings, paintings of popular icons and a series of painted mirrors mimicking current magazine covers. Jullien describes the covers as “a tribute to our desire to exist in an overly media-driven environment.” Also on display is a limited edition sculpture produced with Salao Coboi, which—despite being a departure from Jullien’s usual medium—blends perfectly with the rest of the artworks. There is a charming playful vibe that permeates the entire exhibition.
On his sources of inspiration, the artist lists Savignac, Villemat, Ungerer, Saul Bass and Paul Rand: “They are able to bring creativity to the surroundings of the city’s population. They were people who would bring color and playfulness to the very didactic domain of advertising and mass communication.” He also finds much stimulation in his surroundings in a city he dreamed of as a child. “I grew up with American culture on television, movies, music and comic books. New York specifically was a very fabled city in popular culture. What surrounds me every day is a great source of inspiration in my work, drip-obsessed hipster coffee shops to ‘manspreading’ in the subway. So this way New York feels so great at the moment, I feel like a kid who’s just arrived in a new giant playground, with a drawing pad.”
The main goal for Jullien’s new show is audience interaction—he doesn’t even want viewers to put their smartphone away. He himself is a self-proclaimed internet addict and encourages selfies with his magazine cover artworks. Essentially, he’s not mocking online culture, instead he’s very much a part it himself.
“Poor Traits” opens tonight 27 March and is open through 15 April 2015 at LA’s HVW8 Gallery. Julien also has an upcoming show in Paris with Fricote Magazine and is currently working on a book with Phaidon. Updates can be found on his Instagram profile.
Images courtesy of Jean Jullien and HVW8