When it came to expressing his artistic tendencies, before John Lennon ever picked up a Gallotone Champion guitar, ink and paper were his instruments of choice. A budding illustrator in grammar school, his talent would later be cemented with a rebellious stint at Liverpool’s prestigious College of Art.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Tate, and Lennon soon became part of one of the greatest musical phenoms in history. His love for art however, never subsided and by his untimely death in 1980, he’d left a vast catalog behind—parts of which are for sale this weekend at La Fonda, in a benefit for The Food Depot, Northern New Mexico’s food bank.
“Surrealism had a great effect on me because then I realized that the imagery in my mind wasn't insanity,” Lennon would famously say of his budding signature style. “Surrealism to me is reality.”
Speaking on the phone with SFR from her New York City townhouse, Yoko Ono recalled her husband’s artistic insecurities.
“He was an extremely sensitive artist,” she says in her signature twang. “When it came to his artwork, people seemed to have this ‘I can do it too’ kind of feeling,” adding that though simplistic, “he had an even balanced technique.”
Over 100 works handpicked by Ono encompassing lithographs, serigraphy and copper etchings are on display this weekend with prices ranging from $200-$15,000, all with the common thread of “truth.”
"He was very much into truth and people would wonder if he was crazy, especially when it came to his artwork," Ono reminisces. "He'd say things like 'I could just walk on water' and people's reaction was 'How dare you say that?'"
An artist in her own right, one of Ono's most notorious works is 1966's Film No. 4, a short that showcased the buttocks of 365 people. Moving to the opposite side of the anatomy, last month she debuted #smilesfilm, a lofty, interactive project that aims to document every single living human being's smile.
An idea she says, surfaced form the never-ending grief she suffered after loosing her husband.
“I systematically smiled into the mirror every morning. My smile was forced and looked terrible. But as I kept smiling for some time, my smile became a natural smile. It not only became a smile with my mouth and my eyes, but my shoulders, my tummy and, finally, with my whole body!” She blogged.
A permanent pop culture fixture, Ono’s name has become synonymous with a female force interjecting in a band’s dynamic.
I suggested to her perhaps it was time to change the expression to “Oh she’s a regular Courtney Love,” or “Who does she think she is, Selena Gomez?” To which she just scoffed.
“People can say whatever they want,” she said in a matter-of-fact way; “I’m not really too concerned by it.”
Contrary to that subdued reaction, the years have not slowed her down, and in her own way sent out a dig at Paul McCartney. Over the years Sir Paul has dabbled in art, as has Ringo Starr who recently had an MS Paint-themed show.
Asked to size up her late husband’s work against theirs, her response was immediate.
"Well, I mean do you want me to say it?" she asked. "His work shows that John was really an artist from the beginning. He went to art school and was a true artist," she continued. "As far as the others, what Ringo is doing is much more in the lines of primitivism and I'm surprised by all the beautiful things that he does."
As far as expectations for the Santa Fe show in particular show, Ono tells SFR they're nonexistent.
"I'm just giving people some food for thought and some excitement, I suppose."
Though she is not physically present during show, attendees can expect a number of cameos from her in several of the show’s pieces, a decision, she says, that was merely accidental.
“Oftentimes he couldn’t get a model. I was just there,” she says.
Yoko Ono Presents: The Artwork of John Lennon Noon-8 pm Friday, July 13 ; 11 am-7 pm Saturday, July 14; 11 am-6 pm Sunday, July 15. Free. La Fonda on the Plaza Hotel, 100 E San Francisco St., 982-5511