Paris Peace Sign Artist: "100 Percent of the Money Made Will Go to Charity" (Q&A)

Paris Peace Sign - H 2015
Jean Jullien

Jean Jullien tells THR how his spontaneous reaction to the attacks was to draw a message of peace and solidarity.

One of the overriding images to emerge from the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 is what has since become known as the Paris Peace Symbol, a simplistic but striking black and white stick painting of the Eiffel Tower set within the classic circular peace sign.

Designed by Jean Jullien and uploaded to his social media accounts just hours after the attacks, the image was quickly shared across the world as a message of peace, solidarity and hope and has since found itself on the front of newspapers, posters and T-shirts.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to the London-based French artist to hear how his shock and horror at hearing the news was translated into art and his plans use the symbol to raise money for charity.

You've been quite a difficult person to get in touch with. Have you had a busy week?

I’ve actually been away  very, very far away on holiday this whole week. Holiday is a big word. But I’ve been very far away with no telephone and just got back and had to catch up with quite a lot of emails.

Were you away when the Paris attacks took place?

I had literally just arrived in the hotel and turned on the French radio and heard about all the events. I had to sit down and was in complete shock. I went online, just to see if my friends and family in Paris were ok, and that’s when I grasped the scope of it. Everyone was writing words of support, but because I’m better with images my spontaneous reaction was to draw something, but not as an illustrator, just as a person affected by the violence like everyone was.

When did you see that your picture had gone viral?

To be fair, I grasped the scope of it straight away, because it went really fast, almost instantaneously. It was quite overwhelming, because obviously it wasn’t for me a calculated way of showing my work or taking advantage of a disgraceful situation. It was very personal and heartfelt and I couldn’t really feel any pride or success from seeing my work go viral. I was still completely distraught and in shock. I was on a human reaction level rather than professional.

What was the message you hoped to offer with the image?

Universally speaking, it is the symbol of peace worldwide, and that’s all I wanted to communicate: peace and solidarity for Paris. They were the two first symbols that sprang to my mind at the time  the Eiffel Tower and the peace symbol to symbolize hope.

How do you feel now seeing it adorn newspapers, magazines?

Like I say, it’s a bit difficult to feel any pride or joy or happiness because it’s in such a negative context. But I guess the only light in this dark moment was to see that a sign, which was designed in a very sincere and heartfelt way, was perceived as such and reused globally by people.

It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about being creative, it wasn’t about my work, it became what it should have been, which was a social tool for solidarity. In that sense, grasping the scope that it’s taken, I felt like it did good in a way.

Several alternative versions have been made by other artists  one in Lebanon featuring a cedar tree to pay respect to the recent attacks in Beirut. Have you seen these?

I have seen the one for Lebanon, and I think it was good, because those people were right. When I did it, it wasn’t calculated so my direct reaction was to what I had seen straight away. But of course the sign of peace goes to all the populations and countries affected by mass killings, because it doesn’t happen just in Paris.

So in a way the fact that people appropriated the image made a lot of sense. And it’s not an image that I want to benefit from. It’s the worst kind of circumstances for me to get exposure. So I’m just kind of relieved that people are using it, because that’s what it’s there for.

This is why I’m going to set up a website, because I’ve had a lot of demand from people wanting to use it on T-shirts and everything. I had to copyright the image, just so people can’t make money of it. And I will commercialize the poster and T-shirt, but in my own way so that 100 percent of the money made will go to charity. It’s taken a bit of time, but I’ll soon be making an announcement.

Which charity will you be giving the money to?

I want to give it to the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. The Red Cross will go at the moment to Paris, but Doctors Without Borders will go to all the other areas of the world affected.