Jonas Mekas, pioneering filmmaker who worked with John Lennon, Yoko Ono, The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth dies aged 96

The Avant-Garde filmmaker also worked with Patti Smith, Andy Warhol and many more

Jonas Mekas, the influential Avant-Garde filmmaker who worked with a host of artists and musicians during the 1960s and 1970s, has died. He was 96-years-old.

The Lithuanian-American filmmaker, whose pioneering work captured the underground art and music scene in New York City, worked with a host of artists including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, The Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, Patti Smith and Sonic Youth.

Mekas’s death was announced earlier this evening (January 23) on his Facebook page. “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.”

Mekas filmed the Velvet Underground’s first ever live performance in 1964, his film being the only footage that exists of their debut show. The band also used to rehearse in Mekas’ studio loft and he is said to have introduced Lou Reed to Andy Warhol, who went on to produce their debut album.

You can watch the video here:

He also shot video portraits of John Lennon and Yoko Ono and filmed their famous “Ben-In for Peace” protests.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon

Yoko Ono and John Lennon

Born in 1922 in Lithuania, Mekas was a refugee who survived being sent to a Nazi labour camp during the second world war.

After settling in Brooklyn in 1949, he started to make films soon after befriending many in the New York art and music community.

Speaking to The Observer in 2012, Mekas said: “It is important to know that what I do is not artistic. I am just a film-maker. I live how I live and I do what I do, which is recognising moments of my life as I move ahead. And I do it because I am compelled to. Necessity, not artistry, is the true line you can follow in my life and work.”

Mekas also set up Film Culture magazine with his bother, an influential publication that ran from 1954 until 1996. He also became the Village Voice’s first ever film critic. Mekas was a keen poet and released over 20 books of poetry in his lifetime.

Speaking to The Observer in 2012, Mekas said: “It is important to know that what I do is not artistic. I am just a film-maker. I live how I live and I do what I do, which is recognising moments of my life as I move ahead. And I do it because I am compelled to. Necessity, not artistry, is the true line you can follow in my life and work.”