2 Minutes With ... Jonathan Santana, GCD at Johannes Leonardo

On VW's 'Drive Bigger,' Dua Lipa and Miyazaki Hayao

Jonathan Santana is a group creative director at Johannes Leonardo. With over 20 years experience working across three continents, he's worked on everything from banks to snacks, leading effort for  Volkswagen, Stella Artois, Ikea, Honda, Guinness, Absolut, Generals Motors, Toyota and more. He's launched global campaigns, local campaigns, made Super Bowl commercials and created experiential events along the way.

We spent two minutes with Jonathan to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations, and recent work he's admired.

Jonathan, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. I made my way to a life in New York by way of Paris and London. 

How you first realized you were creative.

As a young child I would draw a lot and on every surface available. Later at school I'd scratch my favorite band into my school desk and paint album covers on my friends' school bags. Later still, I formed my own band and created our own posters and album covers. It's a theme that just continued. 

A person you idolized creatively early on.

How early are we talking here? In culture, it would have to be David Bowie. Through him and many others since, I realized creativity never rests. That invention goes hand in hand with reinvention, and that to be creative is allowing yourself to discover the many you's within you and putting them all out there.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

School ended at 16 for me, and a degree in fine arts awaited. On my first day I walked up the steps to the university, I turned back down towards my mom's car. She rolled down the window and I remember her asking me, "What's wrong sweetheart?" I responded saying that I wasn’t sure how I'd make a living as an artist. I hopped back in the car and said nothing further. It was South Africa, I had no context or reference point for success in the field! A year later I started a course in graphic design and advertising, and a career that’s taken me across the world ensued. The rest is as they say, is history. 

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

Director Miyazaki Hayao, founder of Studio Ghibli. A thoughtful and unique story teller with an incomparable imagination that creates worlds and characters that transcend time and ages. More recently I've been sponging up a lot of art, and New York artist Austin Lee has captured my attention. Musically, there are way too many to mention, but I’ve always had a soft spot for guitarist Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, I often see him at N.Y. art events but never have enough nerve to say hello.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I've fallen in love with Piet Oudolf's book: A Journey Through a Plantsman's Life. He's an influential Dutch garden and landscape designer at the forefront of the New Perennial movement, painting landscapes and gardens with flowers and grasses.

Your favorite fictional character.

Beetlejuice—the netherworld exorcist played by Michael Keaton in one of the most famous cult films ever made.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

Dua Lipa's Service 95. And artist Angela Santana, who just had her solo show in London, and I'm lucky enough to call my wife. 

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

I enjoyed the change of pace and just being at home more, enjoying the company of my wife and every meal we shared together.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

It's not often you are given complete creative freedom, but in this instance my creative partner and I were handed the reins and given carte blanche to do whatever we pleased for the annual New Directors' Showcase at the Cannes Festival. For three years running. And we took full advantage! Working and collaborating freely and wildly with every brilliant and amazingly creative person we could think of. From Warp record artists (Oneohtrix Point Never, Jamie Lidell, Clark), to MIT technologists, visual technologists and artists and producers (Marshmallow Laser Feast, Pretty Bird) and even a famous evolutionary biologist and author (Richard Dawkins). It's daunting to create fresh, groundbreaking work that goes live in front of an audience of over 3 thousand creatively savvy peers, but it's equally rewarding.

A recent project you're proud of.

Recently, we at Johannes Leonardo have been rebooting our "Drive Bigger" platform for Volkswagen, and have released a series of films that hopefully exude that classic VW wit and humor. But what I really like about the work we're doing is how it champions a mindset, those who live life with an open mind, and enjoy it to the full. In a world that is often cynical and small-minded, it's a nice little reminder of how to remain optimistic.

Diamonds, featuring Brett Goldstein from the award winning Ted Lasso series, and Christian Pulisic.
Break Free, directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, famed for her roles in Jurassic World, Black Mirror and The Help, and director of the Mandalorian.
Those Guys, directed by Björn Rühmann.

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

All of Chris Cunningham, Michel Gondry and Jonathan Glazer and Spike Jonze's work. They forever changed how I would see creativity, and how far you could push your ideas and craft.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

Everything Doja Cat does. Her videos and music are just so well produced. And it just looks like she’s having fun with it all and not taking anything too seriously. 

Your main strength as a creative person.


Your biggest weakness.

Stubbornness can bite me in the ass every now and then 

One thing that always makes you happy.

Cats, not the musical, real ones, or ones on YouTube.

One thing that always makes you sad.

Wishing I could be closer to my family in South Africa.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

I guess I’d be an artist. 

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives and marketers about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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