The Art of John Lennon
Off the Wall Gallery
5015 Westheimer, Suite 2208
When John Lennon was shot to death by a crazed ex-fan in 1980 outside his New York apartment, he left behind, in addition to his enormous catalogue of recordings, thousands of drawings, paintings, doodles, and other artwork. He had incorporated some of that often whimsical work in three illustrated books with punning titles—In His Own White (1964), A Spaniard in the Works (1965), and Skywriting by Word of Mouth (1987, published posthumously)—but the vast majority of the art had never been seen by the public, despite Lennon’s attempts to mount an exhibition.
As with everything else in his life, Lennon’s art was overshadowed by his celebrity, said Lynn Clifford, the curator of Lennon’s archive, now owned by Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono. “He always intended to have an art exhibit of his work, but it was very difficult because he would sit in meetings with art dealers, and then at the end of the meeting they’d say, ‘Oh, you’ll come and bring your guitar along, and you’ll play.’ Well, that’s not what the art was about. It was about the visual, not the musical. So it was difficult because of his fame to schedule something.”
In 1989, Ono established Bag One Arts—named after a portfolio of sketches Lennon made during their 1969 marriage and honeymoon—to make limited edition prints of Lennon’s drawings available to a wider audience. A gallery show featuring some of the work has travelled the world, and visits 10 to 12 American cities a year. On Thursday the show opens for a four-day run at Houston’s Off the Wall Gallery in the Galleria.
The show will feature 72 pieces, all signed by Ono, including prints of Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for several songs, including “Drive My Car,” “Give Peace a Chance” and “Instant Karma.” Most of them come in limited editions of 300, plus a subset of 25 artist proofs. (No originals are for sale.) Clifford, who has worked with Ono for 28 years and will be at the exhibition to answer questions, said it was important to remember that Lennon studied at the Liverpool College of Art and always considered himself as much an artist as a musician.
“Art came first in his life, and he drew all throughout his life,” she said. “During the first five years of Sean’s life [Sean Lennon was born to Lennon and Ono in 1975], he got all this criticism from people saying he couldn’t write anymore. But he was still creating—he was still drawing. He never stopped drawing.”