It feels like Nickolas Duarte has been heading towards “Jay” in all of the films he has made that I’ve seen, and indeed, he has spent five years working on the short documentary. This feels like a natural progression from “Joke” and “What You Need” and “Sea Change” and “Sultan of the Sea” because of its oddity, its originality, its use of humor, and finally, the big heart that comes out of its unique subject. In this case, Jay Petersen, an artist whose inspiration comes from a unique place.
I really don’t want to give away anything from this film, because a big part of the film’s success comes from how surprising and unexpected Petersen’s life has been. His upbringing, his acceptance of himself, and the pain of what happened during his growing up in a rural place, which was marked by abuse, all appear to have informed his worldview, and likely, has led to the type of art he makes now. I found myself reminded of Errol Morris’s “Gates of Heaven,” and it would not be surprising if that’s what inspired Duarte while making this film, as well. It would be easy to dismiss Petersen as a bit loony, but the fact is, he’s sincere about where his creativity comes from, and the people he does paintings for are profoundly grateful of what he’s done, and frankly, the work is too beautiful to doubt how it was inspired. This is a sincere, objective look at artistic creation that goes beyond our preconceived notions of where art comes from, and it’s as poetic as any portrait of an artist has ever been. It’s impossible not to be inspired by Petersen, and Duarte’s film about him is a powerful act of courage, about a singular individual who personifies the courage needed to be yourself, both as an artist, and as a person.