The Lithuanian filmmaker, artist and poet Jonas Mekas, who escaped a Nazi labour camp before becoming a central figure in the New York avant-garde scene of the 1960s and working with names such as Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Allen Ginsberg, has died aged 96.
A statement posted on his Facebook page said: “Jonas passed away quietly and peacefully early this morning. He was at home with family. He will be greatly missed but his light shines on.”
A prolific filmmaker, over the course of his career Mekas directed some 60 films, including The Brig, a 1965 film about a military prison, which won the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival. His 1972 work, Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania, was also added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
His films have been exhibited widely, including at Documenta 11 (2002) and 2017’s Documenta 14, the 2005 Venice Biennale, the Baltic Art Center in Sweden, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In 2012, the Serpentine gallery presented a retrospective of his work that was accompanied by a season of his films at the BFI, London.
Mekas also tutored Jackie Kennedy’s children on filmmaking, and was famously the first person John Lennon and Yoko Ono rang when they moved to New York in 1976.
Speaking to the Observer in 2012, he said: “It was late at night and I was in bed, when I got a call from Yoko, who had just landed with John at JFK. She said, ‘Jonas, John wants an espresso. Do you know a good place that is still open in New York?’ It was a little crazy, but that was how it was back then.”
Mekas also collaborated with Salvador Dalí, creating the 1964 film Salvador Dalí at Work, which featured the artist covering the model Veruschka in shaving cream.
He continued to make films until his late 80s, with his final film, Out-takes from the Life of a Happy Man, being released as recently as 2012. An anthology of Mekas’s columns in the Village Voice, ‘Conversations With Filmmakers’, was published last year and as part of a tour to promote it he discussed his work during an event at the Serpentine gallery.
Mekas died at his home in New York City on January 23, 2019.
1. A portrait of Jonas Mekas, shot at the Fondazione Ragghianti in Lucca in 2008. Photo: Furio Detti. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. www.commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jonas_Mekas.jpg
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