On Friday Night, 14th November, as the world reeled from an act of unfathomable hatred and cowardice, an artist’s heartfelt symbol of peace became a worldwide sign of support for France. The illustration is powerful in its simplicity: A peace symbol with the Eiffel tower, rendered in bold, black strokes against a white background. Though many attributed the emblem to the artist Banksy, French graphic designer Jean Jullien created the image, “Peace for Paris,” and posted it on Twitter and Instagram at around midnight Paris time.
The world embraced it almost immediately. And now, not quite 24 hours later, people are printing it on T-shirts, on posters, and on flags, bearing it proudly in a global show of solidarity with the City of Light. It has become a way of saying, We are with you, France, and we are not afraid.
We caught up with Jullien via Skype on Saturday to ask him about the image, its creation, and its remarkable reception.
WIRED: You’re from Paris but you’re based in London. Where were you when you heard about the attacks?
Jean Jullien: I’m currently away, sort of weirdly, on holiday. But I’m very far away. I’d rather not divulge where, if that’s OK.
How much time transpired between when you heard about the attacks and when you set about creating the image?
A minute, maybe. It was done on my lap, on a very loose sketchbook, with a brush and ink.
Did you sit down with this image in mind?
No, to be honest. I didn’t do any sketches. It was a reaction. The first thing that came to me was the idea of peace, that we needed peace. I was trying to look for a symbol of Paris, and obviously the Eiffel Tower was the first thing that sprang to my mind. I just connected both of them. You know, there wasn’t much work process behind that. It was more an instinctive, human reaction than an illustrator’s reaction.
Your work tends to take the form of visual commentary, focusing on everything from day-to-day life to current events. What did you want this image to convey?
It’s a message of peace and solidarity. I didn’t do it to benefit from it in any way. It was my way of communicating with the people I know and showing that I was thinking about everyone affected in Paris. The fact that people shared it and used it, well, in a way that’s all for the better. It’s an image for everyone. It’s a communication tool for people to express solidarity and peace and that’s what it’s being used for, so I’m glad that it’s been useful.
Your 2014 show Allo? was about communication and social behavior in the digital age. The reach and impact of “Peace for Paris” has been amplified by platforms like Facebook and Instagram. How do you feel about that?
As of today, and in the light of the event, I can’t really have any positive thoughts. I’m sort of almost embarrassed to be getting that much exposure as a result of such a tragic event. However, it really shows that this is how we communicate not just as humans, but as a society. It can break down barriers. Sometimes it is difficult to shed light on what is true or not, but I think people have an instinctive sense of how to use these forms of communication. In cases like this, the things that need to spread, spread. And this seems to have been a very positive use of this form of hyper-communication.
I understand being almost ashamed of the traction this has gotten and the reach that it’s had. But at the same time, is it not the role of artists to give us symbols of strength and solidarity in times like this?
I agree. I just … I stopped looking at the comments quite quickly, but I did glimpse one or two saying, “There is a time for pen to touch paper, and this was too quick” and, “Oh, once again, someone is trying to benefit from a tragedy, how opportunistic.” I mean, I would say 99 percent of the comments were extremely positive, and I’m thankful, but …
You do realize 99 percent positive is far above average for most Internet comment sections?
Absolutely, and for that I was quite glad. The Internet being what it is, haters gonna hate. And if you start trying to justify yourself and answer your criticisms it’s just endless. I think you’re entirely right, there is a place for art, or communication, or graphic art in times like these, and it should be useful. I’m a strong believer in the practical role that images play in communicating helpful or positive thoughts. In selling ideas as much as selling products. I think that’s part of what we do.
Much of your work tends to hinge on visual puns and visual creativity. The simple combination of these two iconic symbols is incredibly powerful. What advantages do you think illustration has over the written word in conveying information at times like this?
Images are universal. Let me put it this way: In my opinion, the strongest images are the ones that don’t require any deep background in culture or art history to decipher. It needs to be instinctive. It needs to be something that people from different backgrounds can recognize automatically, and it’s this notion of identification more than reading. You understand before you decipher the image, and I think with words, sometimes, the barrier is higher. Images existed before words, and they do convey a sense of universality.
It’s obviously too early to tell, but based on the reach and impact it’s had already, I’d wager that “Peace for Paris” is well on its way to becoming one of the early 21st Century’s most iconic images. I know that makes you uncomfortable to think about, given the violence and hatred that precipitated it. But that’s exactly what makes this symbol so potent: It’s a sign of peace, support, and optimism that stands in direct opposition to a vile act of terror.
That’s exactly it. You’re right. It came from a place of hope. A positive place. And if that’s how it goes down, and how it is remembered, I’m fine with that.
I know you have to run, but is there anything else you’d like to say about the piece or how it’s been received?
Some people have asked me how I felt about it being celebrated, and I just think it’s not about that. It’s about people sharing it. It’s like giving birth to something and watching it develop a life of its own. You just have to learn to let go and see what it becomes. It’s quite a strange feeling. I’m just pleased that it’s found a use for everyone, regardless of their nationality or where they are in the world, in Paris or not.
By ROBBIE GONZALEZ | wired.com