French artist Jean Jullien is one of our favourite creatives working today. And if you're yet to become acquainted with his work, here's a perfect time to do so... whatever your age. That's because his latest show is aimed specifically at kids but also instantly connects with any grown-up's inner child.
It all takes place at the National Gallery of Victoria (aka NGV) in Melbourne, which was founded in 1861 and is both Australia's oldest and most visited art museum. The museum is currently holding its Triennial, a large-scale celebration of the best of contemporary international art and design, which takes place every three years.
RIFIFI: Jean Jullien for Kids transforms NGV's dedicated kids' gallery into a multisensory experience that's like being immersed in a big drawing. Inspired by the artist's childhood trips to the beach and a passion for caring for the marine environment, it invites young visitors to engage with and explore an immersive and interactive underwater world.
"For as long as I remember, the ocean has had a very strong impact on me," explains Jean, who lives and works in Paris. "Rock pools and the intense imagery of the aquatic fauna and flora filled my imagination from an early age. With roots in Lesconil, a small fishing village in the west of France, I grew accustomed to documenting the seaside in my sketchbooks, then in paintings.
"RIFIFI is a fantastic opportunity for me to pour all these drawings onto the walls of the NGV to create what I hope will be a thrilling underwater installation with tailored activities to share my love of anything aquatic," he continues.
"I have two kids, and we marvel together at what life lies beneath the blue drape of water, play in waves and enjoy sailing on my father's fishing boat. I hope RIFIFI will engage our little sea explorers and teach them to love and respect the ocean."
In line with this vision, the show, Jean's first in Australia, features unique hands-on activities conveying how children's actions can protect the ocean and marine life. These simple ways to interact with the exhibits are perfectly pitched for children, and the experience of visiting this show, which is Jean's first in Australia, is likely to be anything but forgettable for many young minds.
The exhibition is accompanied by a new NGV Kids book, Who Lives in the Sea? which features some of the artist's favourite ocean inhabitants, including sea squirts, sardines, squid and spotted eels.
RIFIFI: Jean Jullien for Kids is one of almost 100 projects commissioned by the NGV for the Triennal, which continues until April 2024, including more than 25 world premiere projects. Over 120 artists, designers and collectives are taking part in the event, which brings together art, design, and architecture into dialogue with one another across all four levels of the gallery.
The exhibition may be aimed at youngsters, but it still represents Jean's distinctive illustrative style, characterised by black brushstrokes and bold block colours. It's a singular aesthetic that's garnered him a cult-like following, including more than 1.2 million followers on Instagram.
His practice encompasses painting, illustration, photography, video, costume, installations, books, posters, and clothing. In 2016, he launched Nounou with Jae Huh, a Korea-based label producing various items, including clothing, graphic objects, rugs and dolls.
He graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2008 and the Royal College of Art in 2010. His work has been exhibited extensively around the world, including presentations in Paris, London, Los Angeles, New York and Berlin.
Recent exhibitions include a large-scale public installation of sculptural and graphic figures at Le Jardin des Plantes in Nantes, France (2020); a joint exhibition with his brother, Nicolas, at Tokyo's Nanzuka Underground Gallery (2023); and a major retrospective at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul (2022). He has created popular illustrations for The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Guardian and recently published his first self-titled monograph with global art book publisher Phaidon.
"Over the past two decades, Jean Jullien has established a bold graphic style that shares his observations of the world around him with wit and humour," says Tony Ellwood, director at the NGV. "RIFIFI: Jean Jullien for Kids is the largest and most ambitious kids' exhibition the NGV has ever staged and reflects our ongoing commitment to collaborating with artists and designers at the top of their fields to create world-class art experiences for our young visitors."
RIFIFI: Jean Jullien for Kids is on display until 7 April at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Entry is free.
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