“Art came first in my life,” John Lennon once said. “I started to make money with music and the guitar, but art always came first in my life.”
Its lucky for the rest of us that no one took a real interest in John Lennons early art career. If someone had, the music world, even the world in general, might be different today.
But during the time he was living as one of the worlds most famous musicians, John Lennon did manage to add “artist” to his genius resume, and today his work can be seen in museums and private collections worldwide. This weekend, June 6-8, it can be seen at 1104 King Street in Old Town, in a show entitled “Power to the People: The Artwork of John Lennon.” The show is free of charge, and some of the proceeds from the sale of Lenon’s art go to the Alexandria Seaport Foundation.
Lennons art interests began during his schoolboy days in Liverpool, even pre-dating his musical ones.
“We have incredible drawings in the archives of John drawing Normans and Saxons, and it says John Lennon, age nine and a half or John Lennon, age ten “, said Lynne Clifford, who has worked with Yoko Ono for 22 years as director of Bag One Arts, Yokos company dedicated to preserving Johns art legacy.
“From 1957 to 1960, John was formally trained at the Liverpool Art Institute, one of the best art schools in the UK. He was able to get into the school not based on his high marks, he wasnt a great student, but because one of his professors recognized his genius. ”
In the years after art school, Lennon joined a band, quit a band, and became a music legend. But he kept drawing, mostly working in quick sketching, and even going to Japan in 1977 to learn the difficult technique of Sumi ink drawing.
Clifford says Lennons style has been characterized by art critics as “being situated between the worlds of free drawing, caricature and illustration, with a keen sense of observation, wit and irony.” But above all, it was simply another way Lennon communicated with people.
“He was a master of communication. He communicated though his art, through his music, though his poetry. He reaches out with his art. One of the things I find amazing about his art is how it touches mens psyches. Its usually the woman who purchases the art for the home, but about 75% of the sales that we do are to men. They look at Johns art and its a visceral reaction, they put themselves right into the picture, and they get it.”
Clifford feels that Yoko has been very brave to let the world see such intimate expressions of Johns love for his family.
“Often when Yoko and I are sitting together and were taking the artwork out of the archive, shell start crying, because she remembers what he was doing when he was drawing them. Yoko was his muse. He drew her over and over again. When Sean was born, he incorporated that into his work. Its all a real intimate, autobiographical portrait of what their lives together were like.”
Clifford recalls a quote from Yoko that perfectly sums up Lennons “other” career. “In his lifetime, John Lennon the artist remained an outsider to the art world, largely because of his fame as a Beatle. In hindsight that was very fortunate, because it allowed his works to maintain their purity, with his unique style remaining untouched by the trends.”