Jean Jullien, Surf's Up, 2017.

What Jean Jullien saw in the Ocean

The French artist finds thrills, threats - and humour - in his sea view

The world’s oceans have always held both dangers and promises. Our new book, Ocean: Exploring the Marine World, draws together over 300 of mankind’s most striking, beautiful and revealing images of our seas, and in so doing demonstrates these contrasts.

There's a sublime, Greek dolphin fresco, an ancient votive offering to a mythical sea monster, a detailed NASA rendering of the way our seas are altering due to climate change, and an apocalyptic marine maelstrom captured in Gustave Doré’s 1877 engraving made to accompany the great eighteenth century sea scare story, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Some inclusions, such as David Hockney’s 1988 work, The Sea at Malibu, find majesty in a stormy ocean; others, including Georgia O’Keeffe’s serene seascape, Sun Water Maine, from 1922, remind us of the tranquillity of the coast; others still, such Damien Hirst’s famous 1991 shark tank work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, enable us to confront our deepest fears.

Yet perhaps few in the book capture both the sea’s threat and promise as humorously as Jean Jullien’s 2017 work, Surf’s Up. As our book explains, Jullien is a French artist whose consistent, yet eclectic work has adorned books, posters, clothing, mugs, installations and, as well as gallery canvases.

“Originally from Nantes, France, Jullien studied and worked in London for many years before moving to Paris,” the text goes on to explain. “A keen amateur surfer, Jullien emphasises the thrill of a big wave, which is the holy grail for all surfers. Against the huge wave, his surfer appears tiny, and it is precisely this stark contrast in size that entices surfers to travel the world looking for big waves.

“For Jullien, there is much to compare between surfing and painting and much to love in both: ‘I draw a lot of parallels between surfing and painting, which is maybe why I paint a lot of surf-related scenes. The elements, the wait, the trial and errors, the progression. I started surfing when I started painting. It all coincided with a desire to slow things down a bit.’ Such is his obsession with surfing that in the early 2020s he designed four surfboards: each is different, individually hand-painted and as quirky as would be expected of a Jean Jullien design, be it a shark or a seal.”


To see more of Jullien’s work, take a look at this book; meanwhile for more marine works, order a copy of Ocean here.