Jean Jullien, the French illustrator behind the “Peace for Paris” symbol, was on holiday when he learned about the tragedies in Paris on Friday evening. He quickly took his brush and ink and drew the sign on the first piece of paper he could find. He said the reaction was instantaneous. The world has taken to the Eiffel tower depicting the peace sign in a powerful way on social media.
Jullien has done numerous illustrations for The Washington Post. Jullien — who graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2010 and is based in London — also created a viral illustration in reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January. We asked him a few questions:
Thousands of social networkers have shared your peace illustration. What is the message you hope people get from it?
Peace, unity, solidarity. This was for Paris, but so many people around the world can relate. We hear atrocities daily; we're all fed up. I think the need for peace and hope is pretty instinctive and universal. I just tried to sum it up in an image.
What thoughts were going through your mind when you heard about the tragedy and when you drew the image?
I was shocked, horrified, worried. All kinds of dark feelings. I felt compelled to reach out to show support to Paris, the Parisians, and to do so with a sign of peace, which appeared to me as the most desired reaction in the face of senseless violence.
You’re from France. How did you relate to the incidents as a citizen?
It could have been my friends or my family. They were just people enjoying life, drinking, chatting, listening to a concert. I relate as a French person, as a citizen, but mainly as a human being.
As an artist, how can you change your illustration mood and tone in situations like the Paris incident?
Well, it's not something I had time to think about. It was a raw, spontaneous reaction, not calculated. The sign that went "viral" was the first thing I drew. I didn't draw it as an illustrator trying to create a popular image, but my natural way of expressing myself is visual. I just wanted to communicate my feelings and support as a person.
Memorializing tragedies through artwork has been symbolic for centuries but only through social media have they become more prominent. Do you think it’s a way of having more people unite across the world? How do you feel about being the person behind this international symbol?
I think we've been getting familiarized with the hyper-communication characterized by social media. We've seen it as an addiction, a vanity and many other critical characteristics. But I think it's also become a very instinctive way of communicating. In that sense, and in times of urgency and tragedy, it's proved itself to be a fantastic tool of sharing and togetherness.
I struggle to feel any pride or happiness about "being the person behind this international symbol" because I'm hurting like everybody else. It's a very dark moment, it's tragic, upsetting. I can't feel happy because I wish I hadn't had to draw it in the first place. If anything, I'm just glad that it seemed to have been useful to people. It's not a drawing for me to benefit from, it's a drawing for everybody to share their solidarity.