Before John Lennon was a Beatle, he was an artist. Music will always be remembered as his most popular form of artistic expression but he also loved his literature and his visual art, studying at the Liverpool Art Institute from 1957 to 1960.
Around the time the Beatles started falling apart John Lennon began moving back to his first passion.
On his wedding day John presented Yoko with the Bag One portfolio of wedding drawings and controversial erotic works. His primary medium was line drawing, pen, pencil or Japanese Sumi Ink. His style is reminiscing of Matisse or Cocteau; the sketches are spontaneous and loose, filled with laconic humor, the genius behind them is that they can be simultaneously informing, amusing, outraging. He drew from life and imagination where there are no boundaries.
During the 60s and 70s, perhaps because he was viewed only as a musician, John Lennon, the artist, was not taken seriously by the art world at large and he remained an outsider.
Now galleries around the world frequently exhibit his artwork and many of his pieces have become permanent collections of major museums including The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Traveling exhibits prominently include the erotic sketches that in 1970 were confiscated from the London Art Gallery by Scotland Yard because deemed obscene. At the time, the rebellious and always challenging Lennon, enjoyed the controversy and accused the establishment of hypocrisy since it reacted to lines drawn on paper but at the same time ignored the “real” pornography of the Vietnam War and starvation in Africa. He believed that, like in soccer, the best defense is attack.
Even though they paved the way for the sexual revolution of the 60?s & 70?s, The Beatles never had the chance to let us know where they really stood on gay issues. By the time Stonewall happened, they had gone their separate ways. We know where John Lennon the musician, poet, philosopher, artist, song writer stood on politics, war, peace, religion, greed, art, women’s lib, racism but what about homosexuality?
I pride myself in being a “connoisseur’ of all things John Lennon but it wasn’t until I met Larry Schwartz, executive producer of Legacy Fine Art Production, he is the de facto curator of John Lennon Art Work, that I picked up an important bit of information I had missed all these years.
During an exhibit at the Delray Beach Center for the Arts I was struck by a lithograph I had not seen before, I stood in front of it for several minutes taking it all in. Walking away from it, going back to it, looking at it from afar. Then Larry approached me, we started talking and seeing my interest he gave me some background information on it.
In the spring of 1972 John Lennon was asked to contribute to an anthology called “The Gay Liberation Book“ (Gay Writing and Survival In the Straight World). He submitted a drawing of a naked man sitting on a cloud with the following limerick:
“WHY” – “Why makes it so sad to be gay? Doing your own thing is OK. Our bodies are our own. So leave us alone. Play with yourself – today. “
The drawing is called: ”He Tried To Face Reality” and it is for anyone who has ever felt different and not able to fit into the mainstream life. This piece places John Lennon among the clouds, seated in mid-air, attempting to “face his version of reality,” while the gravity of the world floating by is underscored by humor. The drawing is whimsical yet poetic because when we are free to be who we really are, the sun shines and lifts our spirits. It shows two different states of mind at work, one dark and pessimistic and the other joyful and optimistic. It represents a glimpse of his unconventional view of life, and part of his continuous attempts to bring down taboos in a world drifting away from physical love and toward mass violence.
As he once said, "If art were to redeem man, it could do so only by saving him from the seriousness of life, and restoring him to an unexpected boyishness.” Or: “All you can do is try and break down the walls and show that there is nothing there but people”.
He was a true renaissance man.
Next month marks the 33rd anniversary of his death. He was gunned down on December 8, 1980 but the world has not forgotten him.
John Lennon’s musical, artistic and humanitarian legacies are still speaking to us today.
Lennon’s commitment and dedication to the poor, the underprivileged and the oppressed is carried on, through multiple charities, by the tireless work of his wife, Yoko Ono Lennon. From the “Imagine” Specialty License plate that fights to end hunger in our state, (the proceeds go to the Florida Association of Food Banks and the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund), to the Monterey Aids Project and Habitat for Humanity, the list goes on to include the Desert Aids Project, Children’s Surgery International, Make a Wish, Adopt-A-Classroom and many more, too numerous to mention, spanning the globe, from North America to South America, from Africa to Asia.
The gunshot that killed him might have silenced his voice, but every night, from the Reykjavik’s Imagine Peace Tower, a beam of light shoots 13,000 feet into the North Pole’s sky telling us that we should hold on to the dream and imagine what it could have been.