Some people embark on a path in their life and never turn back. Whether out of love for what they do or complacency, they never deviate from their path. This is not the story of famous Creole artist Jonathan Gladding. Jonathan Guy-Gladding is an American born artist who has become an adopted son of the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia through his remarkable works of art based upon the people and culture of this Creole region.
Jonathan’s trek to becoming the adopted son of St. Lucia begins in New York City in the United States in July, 1999. He was working at the time as a computer artist for the long-running PBS series Sesame Street. Though by all accounts he loved what he was doing, Gladding still sought to develop his talents in a broader sense. While working with PBS he would find time in the evenings and on the weekends to create and exhibit his own works of art.
When July 1999 rolled around, Gladding had been with PBS for five years and found that his life, and by connection his work, was lacking motivation. Deciding that a drastic change was necessary, Gladding took on the challenge of joining the Peace Corps. This one decision forever altered his life and inevitably led to an American artist becoming the adopted son of the Creole culture in St. Lucia.
After joining the Peace Corps for what was scheduled to be a two year experience in St. Lucia, Gladding finds himself still residing in St. Lucia over 13 years later. There is more to the story of Jonathan Guy-Gladding than simply joining the Peace Corps and changing his place of residence as a result.
Gladding’s desire to be an artist started as a small child. When he was young he loved to draw and in high school developed a greater passion for painting, but he wasn’t sure it could be a career for him. When he went to work for PBS he still felt the desire to paint, but had a hard time reconciling the idea of quitting a job with a steady paycheck and health benefits for the unknown of being a full-time artist.
His decision to seek greater motivation through the Peace Corps is what gave him the courage to take a leap of faith as an artist. As he neared the end of his two year commitment in the summer of 2001, Gladding felt there was less risk involved in launching a full-time art career as his Peace Corps duties were coming to an end anyway. It was at this point that his life changed forever.
While working in St. Lucia with the Peace Corps, Gladding found the inspiration he was looking for in the people and the culture of this Creole world in the Caribbean. When he arrived in St. Lucia, Gladding worked as woodwork instructor in the coastal village of Laborie on the southern coast of the island.
He immediately found his motivation in the faces of the school children and the vibrant culture of this small village. In his biography he states:
“I found there an unending ending supply of rich subject matter in the faces and postures of the uniformed schoolchildren, the people going about their daily lives, and the traditional cultural aspects that make St. Lucia such a wonderful and distinctive place. The pride in heritage and Kwéyòl culture combined with a sense of community and responsibility toward one another deeply impressed me and gave direction to my work.”
Though Gladding had trained in the cubist style in art school and spent his early years working in cubism, he felt that his future as an artist lie in realism. The true inspiration he found in St. Lucia convinced him that a future as a full-time artist was a possibility, and the success he’s experienced since then has validated his choices.
That success did not come easy for Gladding. He launched his full-time career as an artist in August 2001, but saw the economy of his local area and the greater region grind to a halt following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Tourism and spending dropped in the Caribbean and the greater North American region, and on top of that the gallery he was working with closed.
Undaunted, Gladding pushed through with a frugal approach to his life and a determination to spread his art to others by any means necessary. For some time he sold his art through small showings in the home of a friend in New York. Gladding recalled this Jamaican friend hosting small showings in her home, inviting friends from the West Indies to come and view his work. Those small sales over time added up and kept Gladding and his career afloat.
Gladding may live in a small community in a tiny corner of the Creole world of the Caribbean, but modern technology allows him to spread his creations around the world. His realism, capturing the people, communities, and natural surroundings of St. Lucia, reaches all corners of the world courtesy of the Internet. He credits the Internet with not only allowing artists to reach a greater market and display their works for people around the world, he also credits it with allowing artists to develop a sense of community with each other.
It is not every day that someone takes the leap of faith that Gladding did some 13 years ago. He gave up a good job and a steady paycheck to find a greater motivation in life and chase a dream. The small village of Laborie captured this resident of New York City, both in body and soul, and transformed him into the artist he is. Gladding has become such a fabric of the community that the locals refer to him as “shabine,” the Creole word for a person of fair/light skin.