One of the more independent individuals of Taos is now the subject of a documentary film. Directed by Angel Fire attorney Jeff Thomason, "Blue Phoenix: The Art of Jon LeBleu" will …
One of the more independent individuals of Taos is now the subject of a documentary film. Directed by Angel Fire attorney Jeff Thomason, "Blue Phoenix: The Art of Jon LeBleu" will be given a special screening Thursday (Dec. 27), 7 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.
The film is described as a documentary that portrays LeBleu, a "mountain man," painter, sculptor and jewelry maker living in the stark and remote Three Peaks outside of Taos, New Mexico," according to an announcement at tcataos.com.
Tempo caught up with the filmmaker at his home in Angel Fire, here are the highlights of our conversation:
Tempo: When did you know you wanted to tell the story of Jon LeBleu, and what was the impetus?
Jeff Thomason: On Dec. 31, 2014, Jon and I convened at a mutual friend's house in Arroyo Seco to explore the themes of the feature film was on my mind. We had a hearty meal and set up a few cameras just to get test shots, to test the audio equipment and forward that project. I shot footage that shows up in the documentary and was engaged by Jon's expression of his philosophy of life and the philosophy around the creation of his art. Jon was excited about the painting he had been doing, and he invited me out to his house in Three Peaks to see his art. He encouraged me to bring a camera that would shoot digital cinema.
When I arrived, the building struck me as did the sculpting projects on his property and the accouterments of his mountain man's life style. My first impressions of Jon developed a few years prior were of him as being a part of the community that honored the history of mountain men in frontier dress and in summer rendezvous and swaps. This is a world of staffs, black powder rifles and medicine pouches and leather shirts adorned with depictions of animals and colorful cosmological symbolism. But against this background, I encountered Jon's work and identity as an artist.
His paintings were colorful, symbolic and novel, and his description of what they meant and how they were created was striking. It occurred to me that this could be the material for a longer cinematic study, and Jon was interested in having his work and life portrayed. Jon had a studied knowledge of some European artistic traditions fostered in his heritage. For instance there is a distinct reference to the French painter Modigliani in one facet of Jon's work. His later work is evolved to the bold, universal, simple and vibrant in its style and subject.
I learned that he had been a street artist in San Francisco, that he crafted his mountain man gear and that he made jewelry besides painting. I also learned that in his life Jon had been in the military, a flight engineer on a B-52. With Jon approaching 80 years old, I was fascinated by the culture transitions he has experienced: in Louisiana where he is from, in the military, in the counterculture of the West Coast in the 1960s and later, to living in and around Taos for 30 years. From there I pieced together from the symbolic threads of Jon's environs what has become the documentary film "Blue Phoenix," with the title emerging from Jon's self-description.
The other dimension that became clear in my conversations with Jon were the influences of his metaphysical reflections about time on the process of making his art. There is a hint of the historical New Mexican Dane Rudhyar's interests in these notions.The reflections seemed well-suited for the dramatic environment of Three Peaks: the vast skies transited by immense thunderheads, the range and profile of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east, the vast expanses of chamisa. These reflections portrayed a deep sense of humor and acceptance in Jon's spirit, and these are qualities I admire, while his creativity spoke to a commitment to action likewise admirable. But the film, per se, is not a biography of Jon LeBleu. While touching on his larger life, it is more a consideration and presentation of his inspiration and his art.
Tempo: What did you discover about the culture and life on the mesa?
Thomason: There is nothing in the film that speaks of Three Peaks as the "mesa." I understand that "the mesa" is a colloquial term used to describe developments west of the gorge. I suppose "mesa" in this usage describes an area with a certain alternarity and specific challenges. I have friendships with others who live west of the gorge in the Greater World community, for instance. My discovery with this project centered on Jon's character, his resilience, his profound survival instinct and the integrity of his personal philosophy in relation to his lifestyle and art. As vast and quiet as living in Northern New Mexico can be. the vastness and solitude seem amplified in the area where Jon lives.
The imaginative self-reliance is palpable there. I didn't interact with Jon's neighbors in making the film, but when passing a neighbor on the road to Jon's house, he or she would wave in a friendly way. Because Taos itself is a continental crossroad, it seems the area west of the gorge has afforded a place for many to settle where the costs and hustle and bustle of modern life have, to this point, limited impact, and a life of the imagination rooted in diverse cultures and influences might persist.
Still, in a more particular response to the question, one feature from the visual point of view I noticed in particular around this project is that there is much sculpture in that area. The landscape seems to provide a spacious comfort that accommodates the creation of large sculpted projects of all ilks. This feature struck me as distinctive. I understand questions may arise around the continued development of this area. With development there is controversy and competition for resources.
My impression remains, though, however one views the closer residential area west of the gorge and what this area might become, there is a spiritual energy embodied in its architecture and sculpture that merits preservation as an example of resilience, creativity and independence.
Tickets to the screening are $7.50 and can be purchased by calling (575) 758-2052, or online tcataos.org.
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