Renowned graphic artist and designer Jean Jullien’s career has taken him around the world – he recently exhibited at Tokyo’s Nanzuka Underground Gallery (with his brother Nicolas Jullien) and at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul – and he’s currently exhibiting in Australia for the very first time.

But his creative journey began on the beaches of Brittany, France, where he developed a fascination with the region’s rich marine life.

“My great-grandad was a fishmonger and my dad fishes a lot,” he tells Broadsheet. “Every summer … he’d [catch] lobsters and flounders and I’d spend hours drawing or painting them. I'm fascinated by the visual diversity of the marine underworld.”

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In his new exhibition Rififi: Jean Jullien for Kids, produced as part of NGV International’s 2023 NGV Triennial, Jullien has channelled those early memories to create an immersive underwater seascape for kids and families. Designed in the artist’s signature drawing style, with thick black brushstrokes and bold palettes, Rififi is a multisensory labyrinth of pastel-coloured sea life, allowing children to dive head-first into his whimsical aquatic world.

Jullien drew inspiration from international and Australian sea life when developing the exhibition. Illustrations of jellyfish cover the walls, fish mobiles hang from the ceiling, a bench shaped like an eel sits in one corner and a large, illustrated spider crab guards the entry to the room.

“The idea was to make something really visually rich,” says Jullien. “It's like being immersed in a big drawing.”

Adding to the immersive dynamic, the experience is enhanced with a soundscape and a series of sound effects, produced by Jullien’s brother Nicolas. Visitors can also purchase a new NGV Kids book, Who lives in the sea?, published specifically for the exhibition, that familiarises early readers with the artist’s drawings of different ocean species.

Rififi features an Underwater Drawing Club, where kids can draw their own sea animals and a relaxation room where they can kick back on plush pink starfish mats. They can also don a fish-shaped costume and “swim” around the room, collecting illustrated pieces of ocean rubbish and placing them in a bin.

“You get this narrative explaining to them why it's good to clean up the ocean,” says Jullien. “It was quite important to me and to the NGV team to have that message.”

While the ecological sentiment is important for visitors of all ages, Jullien believes children are particularly receptive – and he sees creative mediums as a great way to engage them.

“Even if they don't get the impact on the planet of picking up trash, just the activity of it is like a treasure hunt and that's what we've tried to recreate,” he says. “It's quite a joyful call to action.”

As the largest NGV Kids exhibition to date, Jullien sees Rififi as a chance to promote environmental stewardship across future generations in an approachable yet impactful way.

“It's always easier when you teach kids, right? Because they're what comes next.”

Rififi: Jean Jullien for Kids is on display from December 3, 2023 – April 7, 2024 at NGV International.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of the NGV.