In many ways, John Lennon was truly a renaissance man whose insights and perspective helped shape the sensibility of the contemporary mind. While his music will always be remembered as his most popular legacy, he loved both literature and the visual arts, which he studied at the Liverpool College of Art from 1957-1960.
As early as 1969, John began to revisit the visual arts. He was primarily interested in drawing and favored the loose, creative sketch, working in pen and ink. In 1969, as a wedding gift for Yoko, John drew the Bag One Portfolio, a chronicle of their wedding ceremony, honeymoon, and their plea for world peace, the Bed-in. The suite also contained erotic lithographs. The ‘Bag One Series’ was first published and exhibited in January 1970 at the London Art Gallery. On the second day, the exhibition was closed by Scotland Yard and the erotic prints, confiscated.
In 1986, Yoko Ono decided to share John’s artistic genius with the public by publishing the first in a series of prints entitled This is my Story Both Humble and True followed by Bag One Continued…, Dakota Days, Karuizawa Series and Japan Through John Lennon’s Eyes. We recently had the opportunity to speak to Lynne Clifford, Collection Curator for his upcoming exhibition.
Life’s Karmic Wheel
Lennon’s art has only recently been recognized, years after his untimely death. How do you explain this?
Although John Lennon published his drawings in three books, In His Own Write, A Spaniard in the Works, and Skywriting by Word Of Mouth, he tended to be categorized according to his media fame as a successful star. The art world seemed to find it difficult to accept an artist whose works had crossed over from the field of music, even though music has had such an enormous influence on the visual arts. John Lennon refused to seek the position in the art world he may have desired; nevertheless, he presented his artistic work by addressing the role of the star as an artist.
The reception of John’s artworks has continued to evolve, as museums and galleries around the world mount exhibitions of his drawings.
Turn Left And Make Peace
Lennon was a talented artist and yet, his work is not considered to be at the level of the great masters. What are your criteria for this coming exhibition? What do you hope to achieve?
Lennon’s drawings have been compared to Picasso and Matisse by several art critics. They are creative masterpieces situated between free drawing, caricature and illustration.
This exhibition is an opportunity to share with the public how his sketches offer a pictorial view into the mind and imagination of John Lennon. How he saw the world around him through a prism of love, humor and peace. They are an autobiographical diary of his life with his wife, Yoko Ono and his son, Sean. They are a glimpse into the whimsical genius of one of the most important cultural figures of our time.
He Tried To Consult The Stars
The Bag One Portfolio also contained erotic prints. What happened to those? Will they be included in the upcoming exhibition?
The erotic sketches from the “Bag One Portfolio” are very rare due to the controversy that surrounded them in 1970. Therefore, they are not available to be shown in this exhibit. But there are several drawings from John and Yoko’s honeymoon and wedding ceremony, which will be on display.
In your opinion, did Yoko Ono’s artistic career trigger this belated recognition of Lennon’s work?
To quote Yoko: “John was an artist before he met me, so I don’t think I had too much influence on him in that respect.”
*Curator Lynne Clifford is a noted authority on the works of John Lennon. This exhibition will be on view from March 26th until Sunday, March 29th, 2015. Cover image: On Cloud Nine.
Rose Mary Salum is the founder and director of Literal, Latin American Voices. She´s the author of Delta de las arenas, cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos (Literal Publishing, 2013) among other titles.