See Jean Jullien’s Escapist Paintings From the French Countryside

Jean Jullien, Sarah, Hugo And Lou, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Jean Julien

French artist Jean Jullien has always kept diaries and sketchbooks. Over the years, they capture, as he describes, “time passing graphically.” Now, while in lockdown with his family at his parents’ country home near Quimper, in Brittany, France, he’s translated that practice into an online art show with Chandran Gallery that’s both an interactive exhibition and a meditation on the passage of time. “Home Slice,” on view through May 30, features new paintings of daily observations, candid scenes, and quiet family moments (there are at least two pieces named after his sons, one titled Hugo Standing and another Lou Hiding), all of which were made between March and April.

Besides having fun playing off the maybe not quite current slang of affection, the title also references “a slice of life,” coined by 18th and 19th-century French poet and playwright Jean Jullien, who shares the artist’s name. The exhibition itself was programmed by his brother, Nicolas, who also composed its accompanying music. (It might make you wish you, too, were quarantining in Brittany!)

Sales for the online exhibition partially benefit philanthropic network Fondation de France, and also acts as a prequel to an upcoming solo exhibition, “Slices,” with Chandran Gallery in New York that is now postponed to September.

How did “Home Slice” come together?
When I thought about an online show, I thought about VR but that’s not necessarily me. So we thought this diary, bookish narrative would be appropriate for the content. A lot of the paintings are based on photos, souvenirs, and this desire to get out.

Hugo Standing, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Jean Julien
Lou Hiding, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Jean Julien

Tell me about your life right now. 
Yeah. I live in Paris with my wife and two young children. We went down to a small village in Brittany, which is almost the westernmost point of France, to see my family. We were there when the order came through to lockdown, so we stayed there. We’ve been here for more than a month now. I’m with my family, so it’s all good. We’re the privileged ones. I’m really cherishing the time with my kids. At times it is a bit tricky because they are 10 months old and 4 years old, so there’s a lot of screaming and running around. But it’s nice and lively. There is a lot of nature around me. I can actually take the time to see spring come, which is really nice.

Like the painting of your neighbor’s fig tree.
It’s in my parent’s kitchen. When the lockdown started it was just tiny, tiny blooms, and now it’s fully grown with figs everywhere. It felt like I could really see it as I was painting it. I don’t know if that’s quite normal, that the figs are already out in early May. Things tend to be not very normal at the moment.

The Coming Of Spring, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Jean Julien

In the show, you write that your sketchbooks reveal “time passing graphically.”
The passing of time is striking. It seems like time plays a bigger importance now, whether it’s the contrast between my parents who are getting older and my children who are very very young and starting life. My youngest son is learning to crawl and grab objects. There’s all this time. It’s a bit strange and nice and quite poetic.

Sarah Doing Yoga, 2020. Photo: Jean Jullien/Courtesy of Chandran Gallery

What’s it like to collaborate with your brother again?
My brother Nico and I have been best friends and extremely close since we were born. He plays music, as well as doing animation and programming, and I’m drawing. It’s a very complementary relationship in a way. For this, we wanted it to be a narrative experience online, so he created not a song but a mood that would fit. I’m really happy with what he came up with.

The music is not quite melancholy but reflective.
That’s a nice way to put it. The music doesn’t communicate a sense of rush. For me, I wanted to create something cozy, and for me music is cozy. It’s a cozy, intimate rhythm.

Breakfast, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Jean Julien

“Home Slice” is a prequel to your forthcoming show, “Slices,” this fall. What will that exhibition look like?
It’s more based on observation and travel. There’s one beautiful afternoon that I spent surfing with a friend in Japan, who lives in Kamakura and took me surfing. It meant a lot to me, so a lot of the paintings are based on that afternoon. There’s also a few paintings about going around museums in Paris. Some moments observed in restaurants and the subway in New York. Some streets of Brooklyn Heights.

Those moments sound so fantastical right now.
Yeah, that is true. When we came up with the show “Home Slice,” we debated and I was wondering, Do people want to see pictures that remind them of what they can’t have currently? I didn’t want to be insensitive. It’s a difficult situation for a lot of people. I consider myself lucky, since a lot of people are not in that situation. I saw a fellow artist say on social media that he wanted to post pictures of the outdoors but didn’t want to be insensitive. The collective response was, No, we want to see them. That’s why we watch [television] series, that’s why we book meetings on Zoom. We don’t want to think our world revolves around those four walls. It’s a means to try to collectively travel to other places, fantastical places. Obviously, we all know it’s going to end soon, and we’ll be able to get out and be again with everyone.

Lit Wave, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Jean Julien
See Jean Jullien’s Paintings From the French Countryside