The Proust Questionnaire: John Greer

The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.



Photo © John Greer, 2015

Canadian sculptor John Greer has exhibited his work extensively throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Korea since 1967. He taught sculpture for 26 years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, profoundly shaping and influencing contemporary sculpture and three-dimensional art practice in Canada.

Greer’s most recent solo exhibition, retroActive showcases two- and three-dimensional work spanning almost 50 years, with an eponymous monograph to be published in the summer of 2015. Other recent solo exhibitions include APPRÉHENSION/APPREHENSION at Galerie Samuel Lallouz in Montreal; Reflecting on Culture in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Alluding to Illusion in Dallas, Texas.

Greer is the recipient of numerous awards and grants. In 2009, he received the prestigious Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, in recognition of his lifetime achievement and significant contribution to contemporary Canadian visual art.

Greer has undertaken a number of public commissions, including Gathering (2001) adjacent to the National Museum in Yongsan Park in Seoul, Korea; and Reflection (2001), a memorial to Canadian aid workers in Ottawa, Canada. His work Origins (1995) is permanently installed in the Ondaatje Courtyard at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and he has works in many major national and international collections. In 2009, he installed Humble Ending in La Serpara, a sculpture garden north of Rome. In 2011, his work The Sirens was permanently installed in a private park in Switzerland; and the large-scale installation Cradle was completed in the spring of 2012 for the same private collection.

John Greer works in Canada and Italy. He prefers sculpture as his language, and tries to engage the viewer in being a human, thinking object among objects — a being “of” the world, a cultural object.


Your earliest memory of art:

My first significant art memory would have been seeing the movie Mondo Cane, in which there was a scene showing Yves Klein realizing one of his living-brush paintings. This showed me that art could be real and expansive.

When you knew this would become your vocation:

It was decades ago, when I was studying in Montreal. I spotted a sign outside a coffeehouse announcing that Bob Dylan's favourite singer, Richie Havens, was about to perform. I had enough money for a coffee, so I thought I'd go in and check it out. At this time, I was planning to work in commercial art, because I didn't think anybody would understand my true desire to be a fine artist.

There were two stools, with a floodlight on each one. I thought there must be someone with him, but when he came out, he just had a guitar. So I'm looking for the next person. He sat on his stool, reached into his mouth and took out his upper teeth, then reached in and took out his lower teeth and put them on this other stool in the floodlight. Then he broke into the most beautiful sound.

I thought, “If you have the courage to do that, I want to have a chance at living!” It was then that I decided to carry on with fine art.

Your greatest influence:

The sustenance of art. 

Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):


Favourite pastime (other than art):

Contemplating the nature of existence.

Favourite artist:

Gerhart Richter, William Tucker.

Favourite writer and musician/composer:

Writer Antonio Tabucchi and Greek traditional music.

Favourite colour, flower and bird:

Teal blue; water lotus; and red-throated hummingbird.

Favourite food and drink:

Not a fair question, as I love to cook.

Favourite smell and sound:

The spring smell of Trailing Arbutus, and fresh-ground espresso.

Favourite object:

The Greek  sculpture Victory of Samothrace, now in the Louvre.

Favourite environment or landscape:

Standing on the floor of the Bay of Fundy at low tide, knowing that in 6 hours and 12 minutes it will all be covered with 3,360,000 million tons of salt water.

Favourite weather or season:

When the sun is burning through the early morning fog at the edge of the sea.

Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:

“He either fears his fate too much, or his desert is small. Who dares not put it to the touch, to win or lose it all.”  — Lewis Carroll

Pet peeve:

Suffering uninspired people.

Best quality:


Worst flaw:

Deep-seated anger.

Your definition of happiness:

Working on artworks that are working.

Ideal place to live:

Toscana, Italy.

A recurring dream:

Flying by willpower.

One wish:

To understand time’s restrictions.

Aspirations before you die:

To transcend the self and understand the concept of time in its complexity.

To me art is:

Life imitates art. Always.


Click here to view works by John Greer housed in the National Gallery of Canada's permanent collection.

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