by Yale Breslin, Life and Times
Yoko Ono created An Invisible Flower when she was just 19, at the very start of her artistic career. Her book, tells the story of an invisible beauty and the one special person, “Smelty John,” who catches sight of it. Written years before Yoko met John Lennon, An Invisible Flower offers a glimpse into the early process of a brilliant conceptual artist and seems to eerily presage her own life to come. Her book was recently rediscovered in her archives by her son, Sean Lennon, who encouraged Ono to publish the work and even wrote the forward to An Invisible Flower.
Here, Life+Times chats with the conceptual artist about what the book means to her, and her son, years later.
Life+Times: What did the idea of an invisible flower mean to you when you created the book? Does it mean something different to you now?
Yoko Ono: was always interested in the world which only exists as a concept to us, but it may exist outside of our senses—from a very early age. I am still working on stretching my senses to experience such a world.
L+T: What was the inspiration for the character of “Smelty John?”
YO: I just thought to add a comical element to the story by calling the guy “smelly.”
L+T: Do you feel there are some people who can sense things that no one else can?
YO: Of course.
L+T: Do you feel like you are still the same person you were when you created the book?
YO: I haven’t changed much, have I?
L+T: Did you learn something about who you were when you created An Invisible Flower that you didn’t understand at the time?
YO: I had no doubt that there was such a thing as an invisible anything. But at the time, I never connected “Smelty John” and John Lennon—of course, since at the time I had never met John Lennon.
L+T: How did Sean re-discover the book?
YO: He was going through a pile of my early writings.
L+T: Did he have to work hard to convince you to publish it? Or did you agree right away?
YO: Sean insisted. I thought it was touching that he thought “John” in the story was his dad. So I let him do what he wanted and publish it. But there is some strange connection with a drawing John Lennon did that same year, 1952. The thing that was in a fog seems to be “clearing,” if you can say that.
L+T: What do you want people to take from this book?
YO: Like any work of mine, they should take what they can take from this book.
L+T: What was this experience like as a mother/son project?
YO: Only way to describe the mystery of the particular role Sean played in this project of An Invisible Flower is to say that I have still not comprehended clearly. Nobody has. Maybe only my husband John knows. It’s obvious that Sean did not go into my closet, go through my old files and find An Invisible Flower. From there, already, something was very strange.
CREDITS: “YOKO ONO BLACK AND WHITE PROFILE IMAGE,” Yoko Ono Photo by Synaesthete © 2009
An Invisible Flower by Yoko Ono is available here.
Yoko Ono created ‘An Invisible Flower’ when she was just nineteen years old, at the very start of her artistic career.
Recently rediscovered in her archive by her son, Sean Lennon, who also provides a foreword, this jewel of a book tells the heartwarming story of the invisible beauty we all know is there—and of the one man, “Smelty John”, who catches sight of it.
Written years before Ono met John Lennon, An Invisible Flower offers a glimpse into the early process of a brilliant conceptual artist and, it will transpire, presages the love of her life. Simple pastel drawings complement the book’s affirming message, and a new afterword by Ono makes this small treasure even more special.
Message from Yoko Ono
It just made me choke up re-reading “An Invisible Flower.”
I thought of the drawing of two people on horseback John made in 1952
(the same year I made “An Invisible Flower”).
The two people on horseback look very, very much like John and Yoko.
And the date, 18th February, was my 19th birthday.
It seems like we both knew in 1952 that we would fall in love with each other in 15 years time…
Introduction by Sean Lennon
My mom was born in 1933, and much of her childhood was spent starving during the Second World War. Many materials from her past have been lost, but some still remain between her bookshelves and in her closets. One day while I was visiting, I saw An Invisible Flower sticking out from the mouth of some old books like a tongue; it immediately caught my attention. It seemed like the story had been written about my dad, but it was dated ten years before they had even met. I felt like I was in a time warp. Was Smelty John supposed to be Dad? Or had he snuck in there while she wasn’t looking and changed the name? I read the story, and realizing the book had never been published, I thought it might be a good beginning for Chimera Library.
I compiled the book myself, every page. It seemed it had to be done that way. As I was doing it, I couldn’t help wondering what Dad would have thought.
Turns out, the same year Mom made An Invisible Flower, Dad drew a sketch of himself seated alongside a mysterious woman with black hair on the back of a horse. Could these casual artistic coincidences actually have been psychic spells summoning each other? In hindsight, my mother did seem like an invisible flower that only Smelty John could truly see…
YOKO ONO – AN INVISIBLE FLOWER
About ‘An Invisible Flower’
This elegant little art book is a never-before-published treasure written and illustrated by Yoko Ono in 1952, when she was 19 years old, at the advent of her artistic career. Featuring whimsical hand-drawn text and minimalist drawings in chalk pastel, this sweet story tells of an invisible beauty that we all know, but cannot see. But there is one person who can see it: ‘Smelty John.’
Written years before Yoko met her famous soul mate, Invisible Flower offers a glimpse into the early process of a brilliant conceptual artist and eerily heralds her relationship with one of pop music’s most beloved talents.
Sean Lennon discovered this little jewel in his mothers’ archives and contributes an introduction. Yoko Ono contextualises her work in a new afterword.
“I just couldn’t believe my mother wrote this before she met my father. It’s like a timewarp. Surely “Smelty John” is my father? But it couldn’t be. Could he have slipped unnoticed into the world of my mother’s book while she was looking the other way?”
From Sean Lennon’s introduction
Afterword by Yoko Ono
When I was evacuated to the countryside during the Second World War, I was only eight years old. The landscape was like a Van Gogh painting: shining golden wheat fields stretching out to the horizon. It was beautiful, but I missed the colorful flowers from my mother’s rose garden in Tokyo.
A young farm boy told me we were too far north for any roses to survive. Yet one day I saw a rose like the ones I’d been dreaming of. It was perfectly white, sitting snugly between the bushes on a distant hill.
I was so happy that I ran to it, but when I arrived it wasn’t there anymore. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere. I was sure I’d seen it; I knew I had! Maybe the flower dropped because it was too heavy. It was getting dark and a bit chilly as well. I went round and round, fixing my eyes to the ground.
The next day, upon my request, the young boy went to the same spot with me. I told him that the sweet smell was still there. He made a gesture as he smelt something in air. ‘You see, there’s no rose. I told you it’s too cold around here,’ he said looking rather serious.
In my dream that night I saw the white rose. She was prim and proper, looking at me as if to say, ‘You should have searched harder.’ When the war was over I went back to my mother’s manor. The roses I missed so much were all there blossoming as I had remembered. But none was that white rose… the one I saw in the north.
I wrote this story almost a decade before I met my Smelty John. He made a gesture indicating that he smelt me in the air. And I knew immediately that he was the only one in the world I was not invisible to. He didn’t sneeze, either. And we got together for life.
About the Author
Yoko Ono is an award-winning multi-media artist and peace activist. She has had a critical role in originating forms of avant-garde art, music, film and performance. Ono played a central role in the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and collaborated with John Lennon on experimental film and music projects in the 1970s. Her more recent work has included interactive installations, site-specific works, Internet projects, concerts, and recordings that have been widely disseminated worldwide. She has been honored with internationally touring retrospectives of her work as well as numerous awards.
YOKO ONO – AN INVISIBLE FLOWER
Illustration and text: Yoko Ono
Project supervision: Sean Lennon
Format: Hardcover with jacket
Published: August, 2011
Publisher: Chimera Library & ADP
196mm x 242mm, 58 full colour pages, Japanese and English.
Published: 23 May, 2012
Publisher: Chronicle Books
7.24 x 9.41 x 0.98 inches, 48 full colour pages, English.
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN – 10:1452109117
ISBN – 13:9781452109114
Special Edition Solegraph Boxed Set
A special boxed edition is available at ChimeraMusic.com for fine art collectors.
This special boxed edition of YOKO ONO AN INVISIBLE FLOWER is a work of previously unpublished pastel drawings and words by Yoko Ono from 1952, reproduced true to the original with SOLEGRAPH digital art printing.
For decades, Yoko kept the drawings in a box on the family book shelf, and son Sean remembered finding the box when he was a child. The drawings (on letter paper) were out of order, and Sean had to figure out the “proper” order of the pages. This inspired the boxed edition.
Each box is numbered and signed by Yoko Ono.
Published by Chimera Library
Printed in Japan
Edition Size: 351 + 5 APs
Box Size: 220mm x 297mm x H40mm
Contents: message x 1, Index x 1, Art x 39 (printed on Japanese paper)
Please contact [email protected] for purchase.
Profits will be donated to Ashinaga Rainbow House, which is
building a Rainbow House in Tohoku to aid orphans of the 3.11 tsunami.
Click HERE to view hi-res images.