Ono shares Lennon's art with the world

Former Beatle's drawings in show at Inner Harbor

May 24, 2002|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

There were times, Yoko Ono remembers, when John Lennon and their toddler son, Sean, would gather around the kitchen table armed with pens and paper.

"John would be saying, `What's this going to be?' and Sean would say, `That's gonna be a duckie!' and John would draw a duck," Ono said in a phone interview from her Manhattan apartment.

"They would have a great dialogue over it - I think John was proud that he was a great father doing that," the 69-year-old, soft-spoken Ono said. "He had a big heart, and he had an incredible sense of humor. All the people and animals in his drawings are just funny, even the way they look is funny. That was a part of John that people who didn't really know him didn't get to see."

So, six years ago, Ono decided to share this personal part of the Beatle with the world.

She began staging shows of Lennon's artwork. The exhibit, titled In My Life, is on view through Sunday at Baltimore's Renaissance Harborplace Hotel.

The show - which goes to about one city a month - will feature more than 100 pieces of Lennon's work, including playful animal drawings he did for Sean, quick sketches of himself and Ono, and work that echoed his yearning for world peace, his inspiration for songs like "Imagine." In one sketch, Lennon drew a person sitting on top of the world, hovering above the line, "Imagine all the people; Living life in peace."

In My Life also features erotic lithographs Lennon did of himself and Ono that are so graphic they were confiscated in London in the 1970s. Some pieces - including lithographs signed by Lennon or Ono and autographed album covers - will be sold for $150 to $15,000 to benefit the Children's Miracle Network, an organization that raises funds for 170 American hospitals.

Since many of Lennon's artworks were sketches, Ono added color to some at galleries' requests.

"They said, `Well, you know, if we don't color it in, we can't put it out in the gallery windows,'" she said. "So I said, `Then at least let me do the coloring.' John probably wouldn't mind if I did it because I'm his partner."

Ono herself is no amateur; Lennon met her in 1966 at an exhibit of her work in London.

"It was the day of the opening, and he came an hour before the opening, and I was not very happy about that," Ono recalled. "I was thinking, `What is the gallery owner doing bringing somebody in when I'm not ready yet? So this guy breezed in, and I kind of felt that he had a very sweet, elegant kind of demeanor. ...

"I had a piece with an apple in it, and he grabbed the apple, and took a bite, which I didn't like," she added. "How dare he?"

So began one of the 20th century's most famous partnerships.

Now, more than 21 years after Lennon's death, Ono's identity continues to be closely connected to his. She still lives in the apartment they shared in the Dakota, the building outside which Lennon was shot in 1980. She speaks with the remaining Beatles occasionally. After Sept. 11, she purchased billboards in London, New York and Tokyo that simply said: "Imagine all the people living life in peace."

"It's a very, very important message," Ono said. "We're like people who are in a boat together, you know. And the boat could become like the Titanic or the boat could reach the shore. ... All of us are, in the end, having the same feeling. None of us wants our children to suffer."

Even though Ono continues to create artwork and has produced albums of her own, she knows her own work will always be eclipsed by the memory and mystique of Lennon.

"I don't mind being remembered as John's wife," she said. "We were partners and a couple and husband and wife. And I really think that being with him stimulated my creativity. John was a creative person, too, and yes, my work might have been overshadowed or totally forgotten or misinterpreted. It may have suffered outside, but at home it was important."

Another thing she has come to terms with is the notion that Ono ruined the Beatles.

"I'm sure there are many people who still think that I'm the one who broke up the Beatles and are still feeling bad about it," she said, chuckling. "But they never say it to my face. But, you know, after over 30 years of people saying that, you kind of get used to it."

What she's less used to is how deeply Lennon's death still hurts her. She said picking out pictures for the In My Life show was surprisingly difficult.

"In the beginning, it was very hurtful," she said. "And sometimes, something hits me a certain way, and I'm so surprised that it makes me choke up. But I got used to it. Each time I see the show now, it brings some joy to me.

"He would have loved this show," Ono added. "Even when he was here with us he was constantly trying to do exhibitions of his work. But a lot of galleries told him, `Sorry, we don't do these things,' and he was very disappointed about that. But he understood. He said, `Well, I'm a Beatle, you know?'"

Exhibit

What: In My Life, the artwork of John Lennon

When: Today, 5 p.m to 9 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Renaissance Harbor Place Hotel

Call: 410-547-1200

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