Artist Gendron Jensen has lived in Vadito with his wife Christine Taylor Patten for 26 years. An accomplished artist, Jensen is most notable for his drawings and lithography prints of found animal bones.
Over a four-day period in July 2011, a Minnesota filmmaker named Kristian Berg ventured into the Carson National Forest around Vadito to shoot a documentary about Jensen. Berg’s 28-minute film, titled “Poustinia,” recently won the award for Best Short Documentary at the 2013 Woodstock Film Festival.
Artist biographies abound, both in print and film. But in keeping with Jensen’s highly spirited approach to art and nature, “Poustinia” is a verité romp through the woods and Jensen’s creative process.
Nevertheless, making art is mostly a solitary pursuit. When asked how he could tolerate having someone follow him around with a camera, Jensen first points out that “artists can’t live in a vacuum. We find out who we are through others. In the context of relationship, there is more to be experienced and discovered versus us being alone.”
When the question persisted, he explains, “Kristian and cameraman Benjamin Webb vanished in the doing of their craft. In the act of recording, there was no sense of intrusion or invasion; it was like a dance.”
Jensen’s list of accomplishments is substantial. He has several decades worth of exhibitions, lectures, articles, prizes and fellowships to his credit, according to his website. Some of his drawings appear in public, academic, and corporate collections across the country.
“Jensen’s painstakingly meticulous pencil renditions automatically silence a viewer into a meditative state,” Taos County Arts Commissioner David Hinske says. “The respect he clearly has for his subject matter, bones, is the opposite of clinical.”
In a statement on his website (gendronjensen.com), Jensen says “For me, beyond the physical fact of death, bones are portals, thresholden estuaries unto exaltation. The bones seem to verily sing, they hum with resonant mystery.”
When a cinéaste chooses the subject of their film, a lot of preliminary research goes into identifying who will be the main focus of the film. That wasn’t the case with Berg’s process; because he had an existing relationship with Jensen.
“I knew Gendron as a child,” Berg said. “My dad was the Episcopal priest in Grand Rapids, Minn. and he and Gendron were great friends. In fact, Gendron calls dad his ‘chosen brother.’ ”
The personal affection between the filmmaker and the artist is evident. Jensen says about Berg, “I felt I was in good hands. I once told his father: ‘My soul is in your hands.’ Now during the filming, I was in his son’s hands.”
Berg had started work on the documentary in 2001, filming Jensen during visits to Minnesota. Then, a decade later, Berg got the chance to film Jensen at home in Vadito. “I shot interviews with Gendron and Christine, and on one of Gendron’s ‘bone hunts’ in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains,” he says.
The film crew also shot footage at the University of New Mexico Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, where Jensen was finishing a big stone lithography project.
Bill Lagattuta, a master printmaker at Tamarind, says, “Lithography is a printmaking process that really lends itself to drawing and there is no other artist that I know that has the patience that Gendron has to draw the way he does. He has been true to his vision for all these years and never wavers from it.”
The “Documentary Filmmakers Handbook” notes that ultimately, a film’s “story” is found in the editing room. Indeed, when asked about the short running time (28 minutes) of “Poustinia,” Berg concurs, “The film found its own length. Our film editor, Gregory Feinberg, found wonderful connections and circular patterns within the story — cutting back and forth from 73-year-old Gendron to footage we had of him at 43-years-old.”
Documentaries are a way of experiencing the world. And we all know a good documentary when we see it; not only is information conveyed, but our higher desire for artistic storytelling is satisfied. Clearly, the prestigious juror panel at the Woodstock Film Festival felt “Poustinia” fit this bill. By way of the film, it is simply terrific that a Taos County resident has received this honor.
Jensen’s long-time residence in Vadito reflects his deep affection for the area. He loves the area for its multiculturalism and points out that the Spanish word for artist is artista, in the feminine.
“That’s because we are the birthers of more than our kind. It takes more than our self to create art,” Jensen says. “It’s the community that creates the artist.”
To purchase a DVD copy of “Poustinia,” visit https://www.createspace.com/375893