5 Minutes With Artist Jonathan Gleed

Jonathan Gleed talks artistic angst, giant chickens and subjective truth.

By Kerry Slavens


In his famous poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot wrote, “You had such a vision of the street/As the street hardly understands.” Cue to local artist Jonathan Gleed, wandering the streets of Victoria, Vancouver, New York or whatever city he finds himself in, contemplating urban scenes of tangled traffic jams, glowing taillights, bold neon, rain-slick streets, walkers in the rain, valleys of concrete.

In his Fairfield studio, through layers of acrylic and his unique self-taught technique, Gleed’s vision of the streets comes alive as he evokes the elusive  and emotional spirit of urban landscapes.

What do you admire most in your friends? 

How they all seem to achieve their goals without whining about how hard it is to get there. I whine all the time.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? 

In this politically red-hot age, [it’s] the willful ignorance and mental gymnastics people practise to prove that their team is morally superior, in defiance of the plain and simple truth.

Which living person do you most admire? 

My wife will say that I didn’t have to say this, but it’s her 100 per cent — the way she balances nurturing and kindness with logic and practicality. Her steadfastness makes me proud and jealous at the same time.

On what occasion do you lie? 

I see no problem in lying to someone to avoid hurt feelings if the truth won’t improve their life or the situation. Besides, my subjective truth is not necessarily the real truth anyway.

When and where were you happiest?

When my second child was born and I had established she was healthy. That meant four out of four of us were good, and that gave me a great sense of peace.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Stop having so much god-damn self doubt. I hold myself back out of fear of failure, and sometimes I have a troubling inner voice that is not my greatest friend.

What’s your most treasured possession? 

I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I guess it’s my paintings. Nothing is more valuable to me than having something that I created myself. Strangely though, I have no problem handing them over to others. 

Which painting (not yours) would you choose to be the metaphor for your life?

Probably something by John Brosio. He paints these crazy scenarios like giant chickens destroying a suburban strip mall. Or a giant squid bubbling out of someone’s bungalow. It’s the craziness coupled with normalcy that I experience on a day-to-day basis.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A pigeon. Lots of people consider them pests, but they’re so successful and resilient as a species. That’s something we should admire. And they can fly! Who wouldn’t want that?

If you could go back in history and become any artist, who would you be and why?

Gustav Klimt. Incredible talent technically. The way he bridged surrealism and realism. [That’s] something I strive for in the future as an artist …

What’s your greatest achievement? 

Aside from marrying a wonderful person and raising great kids, I’d say [it’s] creating something out of nothing through my art … It’s not easy working in isolation and to mostly have no one to bounce ideas off and guide me. You’re on your own as an artist. 

This article is from the January/February 2018 issue of YAM.