The Proust Questionnaire: Leslie Reid

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: Capt. Mark Gaillard

Born in Ottawa in 1947, Leslie Reid received her B.A. at Queen’s University, after which she moved to England and studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art, Chelsea College of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art. She exhibited in the landmark exhibition Some Canadian Women Artists at the National Gallery of Canada, in celebration of the first International Women’s Year in 1975, and has represented Canada at the Paris Biennale. 

Her work has been featured in major solo exhibitions at Canada House Gallery in London, England, the Centre culturel canadien in Paris, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, and the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa. A retrospective exhibition, curated by Diana Nemiroff, at the Carleton University Art Gallery in the fall of 2011, featured works from 1975 to the present.

Leslie Reid has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, of which she has been a member since 1978. She was artist-in-residence at the École nationale supérieure de la photographie in France, and at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and recently travelled across the North with the Canadian Forces Artists Program. Her work can be found in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and the Glenbow Museum, amongst others.

Leslie Reid is a Professor Emerita, Department of Visual Arts, University of Ottawa.


Your earliest memory of art:

My very earliest memory is of the painting hanging over the mantel in my grandparents' house, where I lived as a child. It was painted by my aunt as a very young woman, and was a surprisingly large painting — or so I thought — of big, deep red roses on a dark ground. My aunt stopped painting when she married and had (many) children.

And, at the age of eight, I was taken to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts by my mother; it was the only museum trip I can remember in my childhood. We saw an exhibition of the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth (soon to be resurrected by Tate Britain). It was a mesmerizing array of mysterious objects; I can see it still.

When you knew this would become your vocation:

I studied political science at university, but started taking art history courses. Art took over, and I knew at the end that I would go to art school. I had always drawn and painted, and even tried designing buildings, throughout childhood and my teens, but it never occurred to me that this could be real work, a career.

Your greatest influence:

Moving to England, studying art in London — the people, the atmosphere, the museums . . .

Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):

Architecture, but I lacked math skills. I made the right choice.

Favourite pastime (other than art):

Reading, listening to music, cycling.

Favourite artist:

Turner, Vermeer, Rembrandt. And Agnes Martin, James Turrell, Gerhard Richter, Vera Frenkel. 

Favourite writer and musician/composer:

George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Musician/composer: Early Music, Bach, Beethoven. The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Suzie Leblanc.

Favourite colour, flower and bird:

White, and all its variations; wild rose; seagulls.

Favourite food and drink:

Wild blueberries; a good coffee with heavy cream and maple syrup.

Favourite smell and sound:

A wood fire; ambient sound, especially while cycling.

Favourite object:

A paintbrush left to me by a dear friend, and an eagle feather given to me with his blessing by a Canadian Ranger.

Favourite environment or landscape:

The Pontiac and Gatineau Hills, and the English countryside, preferably on a bicycle.

Favourite weather or season:

November, when the light is low and the earth is exposed.

Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:

I'm not sure . . .

Pet peeve:


Best quality:


Worst flaw:


Your definition of happiness:

A happy family.

Ideal place to live:

Where I am at the moment.

A recurring dream:

Feeling lost and anxious in a group of people I seem to know, but not knowing what I am doing there or what I am expected to do.

One wish:

For environmental action by our politicians and corporations before it is really too late.

Aspirations before you die:

To see the above happen.

To me art is:

Consciousness and imagination revealed together.


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