|John Lennon's "Imagine All the People"|
“Imagine—The Artwork of John Lennon” helps re-imagine his creative legacy. Lennon’s drawings are the star of this traveling exhibit, which opens Friday at St. Armands Circle Park.
We recently spoke to Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, about John’s life and art. Unlike other celebrities I’ve encountered, she was gracious and warm and put me immediately at ease. Thanks to her openness, I came away from the conversation with new insights into the lives of two of the leading artists of our time. I feel privileged to share these insights with you.
Marty Fugate: First of all, it’s an honor to speak with you.
Yoko Ono: Well, it’s exciting for me too, Marty.
Thanks. Before we start, I have to say, I admire John’s art very much. He has an amazing ability to define an iconic image and create an emotion with a clean, simple line.
I know — it’s incredible! Some people probably think “It’s a simple thing. I can do it.”
I’m a humble cartoonist, and I know I couldn’t do it!
Then you understand.
I admire. Do you think this exhibit will help people rediscover John as a visual artist?
Yes, I hope so. It’s a very popular show. When you really look into John’s work you see this is an incredible sort of warmth and feeling; a little sense of humor; a twinkling in the eye. Also, the drawings are just filled with John’s warmth and love for people. I think people tend to forget that about him, so it’s good to remind them of that, you know?
And people respond to that goodheartedness, especially children. I remember the previous exhibit of John’s artwork we had here — "When I’m 64,” back in 2003. Toddlers who had no idea who John Lennon was were totally fascinated and drawn to his images.
Children are still not damaged, you know? They’re very pure and they understand it right away.
When did John create these images?
All the time, over many years. John was constantly drawing! He just did it whenever he felt like it. It was his security blanket in a way. And strumming a guitar was a security blanket for him, too.
But he couldn’t always play.
Right! (laughs) Art doesn’t make so much noise! You know, he’d always have a pencil and some paper, so he could just keep drawing. If John wound up in a boring business meeting, he’d start drawing. All the lawyers were saying, “What are you doing? What are you doing?” Then they’d look at what John was drawing and they’d say “Wow, can I have that?” and he’d say, “Sure, why don’t you take it?”
Do you have any favorite pieces in the show?
No. I’m hands-on about selecting which ones to be there. Unless the drawing is really good, I wouldn’t put it out. I love them all. They are all my favorites.
I’m sure you remember the time you fell in love with John. Do you remember the time you fell in love with his drawings?
(laughs) Yes, I think so. It started to happen when I first saw his work in London in a bookshop. I thought, “Wow, this art, it’s incredible.” And every page was incredible. That’s how I feel now.
Is it true that “respectable” art galleries didn’t always take John seriously as a visual artist?
No, they didn’t. They were often so insulting to him. The owners thought, “These are the dabblings of a rocker; why don’t you play your guitar? We’re doing a show of very, very good new artists, John. Maybe you want to come to the opening with your guitar and play something for us.”
In other words, “Here’s your artistic category; stay in it.”
But that started to change?
Yes. When John was here alive, he had a show in London and in New York City. In the London gallery, all the lithographs were confiscated because they were obscene. I thought, “Wow, imagine that! Nobody would seize Picasso’s art, would they?”
It took courage to show his art back then.
Yes. And John was constantly looking for a gallery like that.
This is a little off the subject, but I was recently in New York City with my friend, Su Byron. I had a great time participating in your “Voice Piece for Soprano” at the Museum of Modern Art — the piece where you’re invited to scream into a microphone.
You didn’t, did you?
Yes I did! Screaming my head off in a major art museum was big fun.
The Museum of Modern Art, are you kidding? Usually, they don’t want people to make a pin drop noise. I think they were very courageous to do that. I think this is a first for them.
I’m impressed by the many peace initiatives your Imagine Peace project is supporting. I was particularly moved by your “Imagine Peace Tower” in Reykjavik Iceland — a tower of light you created as a monument to John Lennon.
Did the reality match the vision you had in mind?
It was really more than my vision! I didn’t think it was going to be like that. Before I built it, people asked “How high is it going to be?” I said, “Maybe seven floors high, hopefully.” But I worried about it. I thought to myself, “What will I say if it isn’t even that high?” Then we turned on the power and the light went zhhipp — and shot up right in the sky. The light was really, really very high, so high it seemed to curve across the sky.
I’ve only seen video, but what I’ve seen is impressive and beautiful.
You’re welcome. What are some of your recent music projects?
Oh, there are so many. In 2009, I made an album with my son, Sean, “Between My Head and the Sky” — my first new Plastic Ono Band album since 1975. Sean produced the album and also performed with me. There were also many great musicians, Yuka Honda and Cornelius and many others. I did a few concerts for that, as you probably also know. I was very, very impressed and honored that Lady Gaga came to our concert in Los Angeles. Just about a week ago, I completed an album with some friends of mine. I hope this is going to be a good one too!
I’m sure it will be.
Any concluding statements?
Well, I enjoy talking to you, Marty. I just want to say, John’s art had a message of peace and love. This show keeps the message alive and says “I love you” to the people of Sarasota. I hope you come and enjoy the show. We hope everyone enjoys the show.
|"Power to the People"|
Published in the current issue of "Ticket" in the "Sarasota Herald Tribune." Reprinted by Permission.