Yoko Ono knows what it’s like to have people second guess her work because of who she is. Many who are unfamiliar with her success in the art world before she married John Lennon assume she didn’t earn her avant-garde status. The same kind of people write off John’s ability as a visual artist.
Lennon’s drawings can be seen in the “We All Shine On” exhibit.
“Many people still consider him not a very professionally valuable artist. I’d really like to say that you should get what you can from John’s work because it’s really unique and beautiful,” Ono said. “There’s a spirit shining in it.”
And it’s naysayers like that she’s vowed to campaign against. It was a promise she made to Lennon before he died.
“When John passed away I realized that both of us were artists and we wanted to communicate with the world. John can no more in a way, so I wanted to make sure that his work would be communicated. That is my pledge to John,” she said.
When looking at the art in the collection, simplicity and casualness are apparent, two things that seemed foreign to Lennon’s life.
Ono said the beautiful thing about using a pen and paper to Lennon was that no one else needed to be involved. No backup musicians or producers, no one else had a hand in the creation of his art or the final product.
“I suppose music-wise, you create it and then you have to go to the studio and if you’re a commercial, professional singer-songwriter, you have to call other musicians to do the bits and everything. Then you have to record it and then remix and re-master and all that kind of thing,” she said. “So by the time that you’re done with it and it’s on the record, it’s kind of different from what you expected. Sometimes it’s OK and sometimes it’s not, you know. But with the art, all he had to have is just a pencil or pen in his hand and that was it.”
There was one person that Lennon loved to draw with, his son, Sean.
Lennon used his pen as a bridge to his son.
The collection is divided up into sections: “ai: Japan through John Lennon’s Eyes,” “Dakota days” and “Real love,” among others. The Dakota apartment building in New York City is where he lived with Sean and Yoko in the last part of his life.
A sense of playfulness is apparent throughout the collection as is the kinetic energy many associate with his restless persona.
However, it’s contentment that seems front and center in his domestic sketches. Colorful illustrations of animals, balloons and family point to a peacefulness that eluded Lennon for most of his life.
“Well the thing is,” said Ono, “if you can’t be happy in certain circumstances, then you try to make other people happy, you know, and sometimes that works.”