John Lennon would have been 64 on Oct. 9 of this year, which makes it appropriate that his artwork comes to Reno in When I’m 64, July 30-31 and Aug. 1. The show, presented by Yoko Ono and the Silver Legacy, features more than 100 drawings done by Lennon from 1964 through 1980 that focus on peace, love and family. Ono has added colorful touches to many of Lennon’s works in a manner she believes adheres to the original intention of each piece. Ono spoke about Lennon and his work from her apartment in New York City. For information about the show, call (888) 278-1969; a donation of $2 is suggested at the door to benefit the nonprofit Adopt-A-Classroom organization.
Is John’s work showing the year of his 64th birthday because of the relevance to the Beatles’ song “When I’m 64” or has it been showing all along under the same title?
Well. The 64 title was there always. It was what he was talking about all the time, “When I’m 64, it’s still this and still that.”
I’ve heard it was your pledge to John that the world know him as an artist. He was already a musical artist, so why was it necessary for him to find recognition as a visual artist as well?
Well, because he was an artist before he became a rocker. He went to a liberal arts school. It was a very difficult art school to get into at the time, and he was proud he got in. Then he fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll. He always was an artist; it was just that he couldn’t have a one-man show because he was too famous as a rocker.
Is there a particular drawing that you can remember watching John create, or one that has extra significance to you?
That’s very difficult because I was there all the time … There was the one ["Bag One"] that we loved very much. We were both in love with it, although John fell in love with it later. It is the one in which John and I are holding each other; he did it in one line. Initially, he said he would throw it away because it was not good, and I said it was very good, don’t throw it away. Then he grew to like it very much, too. I feel that I saved that one.
How are John’s works more than just random sketchbook drawings, or are they just that?
That was the way he created. That was his style, so to speak, and it’s a very interesting style in that it’s almost oriental and Asian art—not that I even told him to do it that way. It just happened that he had that kind of a knack for it. Usually, his art doesn’t look as if he tried hard enough, but when you try that style, you see how difficult it is. He had a special unique way of expressing himself. When you compare that with something like Picasso—what he was doing later in his life—you see, “Oh that’s what [style] that was.” If it’s Picasso, people accept it, but if it’s John, people seem to question more what he is doing. It’s a style that he started to do. In the old days, he did something much more meticulous and descriptive, but he intentionally changed his style.
I’ll tell you, when he went to Japan with me—and I didn’t tell him to do anything—he was looking at these Japanese brush strokes and thought that was very interesting and spotted that, in a way. It’s the concept of minimalism, and that’s something that interested him very much, I think.
You were an established artist and had already found your own artistic styles and themes when you met John—so I’m sure you influenced him, if even to a small extent. But, as you saw John develop as a visual artist and as he developed his own themes, did you let that inspire or influence you?
Not very much. I think that we influenced each other by encouraging each other, by inspiring one another in a more abstract way. We didn’t tell each other what to do. That’s a no-no. When you do that, artists will go the other way. So, two artists being together, we were probably influenced in many ways without knowing it. I had my own style already. The lucky thing was that both of us were pretty established in our styles before we met each other.
What are you doing artistically right now?
So many things that I can’t list all of them. Busier than I’ve ever been, which is kind of a blessing.
Your son, Sean, is a talented musician. Aside from the musical influences, how would you say the drawings that he and John did together when Sean was young (the Real Love series) have molded who Sean is today?
That [series] was all John being inspired by the love he had for Sean, but Sean happens to be an incredible artist. He does these very strange surrealist drawings that are very fine and meticulous. It’s very, very good.
It would seem, in light of recent events, that there could be no better time for the public to be viewing John’s work—so focused on love and peace. Have audiences in the past couple of years been more open to and more emotionally responsive to John’s work?
Well, I think that [people] are very much connected with John’s ideas and his statements. It’s all there. Each one of the [musical] lines he created is giving people a lot of encouragement and inspiration; his art does the same. His art exhibitions are extremely popular, and when [people] come to see it, I think they get a lot of inspiration and encouragement from it. It’s not some highfalutin thing where you need a critic to tell you about it. John’s work is more real. It’s something people can recognize and understand without the critic to tell you how to understand it.
Today, in the school curriculum, they are dropping art and music the first thing. Actually, music and art are two very important things that are going to bring us some healing and world peace, so we have to keep on letting people wake up, wake up to the influence of art and music because art and music are the two international languages, as opposed to politicians who have stands, and religion.