Writer Chris Jones first came across this artist on Facebook, he was a friend of a friend on there and the posts sparked his curiosity. This guy survived on what we’d call pound store food and lived to write a best selling book on the subject – being a starving artist suddenly takes on a new aspect.
What I’ve liked about Jonathan’s career is that he has pushed and continues to push boundaries, whatever they are, wherever they are.
I managed to catchup with this hirsute Canadian recently to chat about the past, the present and the future:
CJ: How would you describe what you do? Whats your “job description”? Your work seems to cover so many areas – it’d be interesting to see how you describe yourself?
JL: Oh God. This is only the first question. And I have no idea what to answer. Well, okay. Breathe, Jonathan. How do I describe myself? An artist, for sure. Visual artist, to be more precise. Visual because I work with images. I started out as a video artist. Then added photography to my practice. Performance art. Painting. And finally, writing. Come to think of it, I am a multi-disciplinary artist. Which means that although I have an undying love for video, I’ll use whatever medium is necessary to better express my emotion or idea.
Although I define myself as an artist first and foremost, it’s still my second job. My sideline, for now. Because I sadly can’t live off my art. The good news is that my daily job is related somewhat to my passion. I work as a content researcher for a music television channel. It’s like the equivalent of MTV. But French-Canadian. I work there forty hours a week. And make art at night and during the weekend. I’ve actually been working in TV for ten years now. Before I did a bachelors in Fin Arts, I did a Bachelors in Communications.
CJ: You’ve written books, produced thought provoking artworks in every conceivable medium, created films – whats your favourite area to work in?
JL: I always say that my favourite medium is video. I just love developing an idea. Shooting it. Editing it. And making something that will make people emote. That said, even since I signed my first book deal, I’ve been developing a passion for writing. I mean, I’ve always done a lot of it. At work, for example, I am the person in charge of writing the voice overs for the show I’m working on. I wrote all the screenplays to my videos. So when I did write the cookbook, it all came out naturally. In a week. It was then that I discovered that not only did I like writing, but it was natural for me. Almost necessary. That’s why I decided recently to start writing erotic short stories.
CJ: Describe your artwork? What drives you and inspires you?
JL: I’m not sure how I would describe my artwork. I’d need to ask others. To see what they think of it. How they view it. It’s also difficult for me to put all my artwork together in the same category. My video work is more personal. It explores part of my identity. And deconstructs it with archives of my childhood. Trying to understand how I became the person that I am today. How my scars make me who I am.
So I guess what originally inspired me in making art was trying to understand myself better. I thought, and still think, that in doing so, I would understand the world around me a bit better. I started out doing work about my identity. Being gay. I used video art to try and understand when it was that my father stopped loving me. That my identity became something that disgusted him. I used performance art to materialise all those moments where I was tormented at school. Where I was the victim of intimidation. And in reliving those situations, I would try to take back the power that was stolen from me.
When it comes to painting, and the same goes for the t-shirt, tote bags and buttons I create, it’s just about shape, colour, design. I don’t paint as much as I would like. Because I don’t have a studio. And I live in one. So when I paint it’s because I got a specific commission from one of my clients. They told me what they want, and I paint according to that. I don’t have as much space for being creative. But it doesn’t matter. It makes me relax. I don’t have to think about that message or this message. I just paint.
Recently I’ve been very much inspired by sex. That’s why I started writing erotic short stories. I am also doing a Polaroid series on the communality of sexuality and the desexualization of the erection. I find sex so fascinating. And complex. It’s part of who I am. Of all of us.
CJ: I first found out about you via your Dollar Store book “Surviving with a Handful of Change” – describe the process behind this. Why did you write it? Any plans for a follow up? Any plans for a UK release?
JL: A few years ago, I went back to school. I had been working in TV for a couple of years. Doing crazy hours. And I felt that I lost myself. I lost my creativity. So I decided to do another bachelors degree. This time, in Fine Art. During that time, I was on a Loans and Bursary program. Living alone in an apartment. Working a few hours a week at the University art gallery. Making almost minimum wage. I was poor. Dirt poor. So poor that I didn’t have a choice but to eat Dollar Store food. Because I didn’t want to eat stuff right out of the can, I decided to think back to all the recipes I did with my mom and grandmom. And make them with cheaper food. I of course had to replace eggs, milk, cheese, butter because there are no refrigerated aisles at those stores.
Anyways, so I compiled all my recipes. One day, I was talking to a friend of mine. Saying that I wanted to self-publish a cookbook describing my experience. He put me in contact with his friend that worked at a publishing house. They got interested right away. And the rest is history. I was lucky enough for the Quebec media to be overly interested in the book. And was also lucky enough to have an interview with the Canadian Press. Which then got me coverage all over Canada and a bit in the states. Which is who you heard of my book. Because I did an interview on a Toronto morning show.
I don’t think there will be a follow up. If there is one, it won’t be a cookbook. It will be something different. Sadly, there won’t be any UK release. The book was never translated in English, for starters. That’s something that baffles me after all the press that I got. And even if it had been translated, you guys in the UK have different dollar store that us. Come to think of it, do you even have a one pound store in the UK?
CJ: Your IMDB page lists the films you’ve been involved with, any plans for more, and if so, what can you tell us about them?
JL: At this moment, (RE)TRACE, my second to last video, is being presented at Image + Nation, Montreal’s LGBT Film Festival which is also Canada’s oldest LGBT Film Festival. It’s also in competition at the Face à Face Film Festival in Saint-Étienne, France. It was actually shown at the BFI in London at the beginning of the year. I was very happy about that. Mostly because I love UK.
The last video I created is called Moratory. It was just accepted into distribution at Vidéographe, my Montreal distributer that now has four of my videos. I also have two videos distributed by Vtape in Toronto.
Both of these videos centre around my childhood and the relation with my father, and are illustrated with video archives of me and my family.
I have no idea what will be my next video. Interestingly, in Moratory, in the end, I say that I have no idea what will be the subject of my next video. I still don’t. I’m putting a hold on that medium for the moment.
CJ: You seem to travel a lot, how enjoyable do you find this? Any favourite countries?
JL: I’ve been traveling a lot this past year. The reason for that is that my boyfriend is French. So I went to see his family. I also have a lot of friends in Europe. And I got invited to a wedding in San Francisco.
I love traveling. It’s one of my favourite things. Even if I hate going through customs and being searched like a terrorist because of my beard. I’d enjoy it more if the agents were sexy. And wore tight pants revealing big… Sorry, I digress.
I haven’t seen every country in the world. Evidently. But as of today, I would have to day that my favourite countries are Australia, Switzerland and UK. And I’m not saying this because this is a UK magazine. I just love your country. People are always nice to me. The food is great. And the accent is so hot it makes me weak in the knees. I love everything about it. And I always enjoy myself. I’ve been to Manchester and loved it. Been to Bath, beautiful. And London. London is my second home. I adore it. I came to London in 2003 for two months. By myself. And I had a blast. London was the place where I came out. I owe a lot to that trip. Changed my life.
CJ: You have a high social media profile – is this an enjoyable part of your work?
JL: I try to be as present as I can on social media. Without being there too much.
I like social media because I can share news with friends and acquaintances from around the world. It’s also a great platform for me to sell my art. I Sold around eighty t-shirts and hundred bags on Facebook and Instagram. Which helped finance part of my artist residency in New York last fall.
I do enjoy that part of my work. I’ve always liked the marketing part of the art work. But one aways needs to be careful. There is a lot of negativity and stupidness on those platforms.
For now, it’s a great way for me to show my work. Because my website is crap and haven’t been updated in years. It’s on my to-do list.
CJ: What other projects are you working on? What can your Youtube and Facebook fans look forward to next?
JL: I haven’t been active on Youtube and Vimeo for a while. Mostly because I can’t show my work on the web if it’s being shown in festivals.
At the moment, I am writing my first novel in french. Hopefully, if/when it gets picked up, it can be translated in english. I am also thinking about my third erotic short story (as the second just came out). I’d love to write a dozen of them and publish a collection on Amazon.
And like I mentioned before, I am currently working on two Polaroid projects that revolves around sexuality.
I always have a thousand project in the works. Might be that by the time this article is published, I will be developing other projects.
by Chris Jones