It’s been 28 years since John Lennon was shot to death in Manhattan, but his influence lives on in so many ways. Of course, there is all the music by the Beatles and by John as a solo artist and with his wife, Yoko Ono, but he continues to be felt through the artwork he left behind — whimsical, hopeful, insightful.
Ono created a traveling show, “Come Together: The Artwork of John Lennon,” back in the ’80s. It contains original drawings, lithographs and serigraphs that will be on display in Provincetown at the U.U. Meeting House, Friday through Sunday, Aug. 29-31 (see hours below).
Ono says she wanted to show this other side of Lennon’s creative life, one most people were not familiar with. Throughout his life he was prone to draw and sketch, capturing the moments around him whether in political statements, love stories or celebrating the beauty of his young son.
Lennon’s drawings clearly demonstrate his ability to capture in few lines the essence of a person or situation. It looks simple, like the catchy sing-ability of many Beatles songs, but is not.
Ono says the show is one more way to share Lennon’s vision with the world. She says she had just finished mixing the posthumous CD “Milk & Honey” and turning to the artwork was a natural choice.
“Originally he was not successful as an artist,” she says by phone from her New York studio. “He had been having trouble finding a gallery to represent him. Now it’s very successful.”
When it came time to go through the hundreds of drawings, she called in some art experts.
“I got professional help in putting the show together, in making the decisions,” she says, adding that making the selections was tough. “It was more difficult to not put a lot in the first show. I wanted to put everything in.”
Since the show first began to travel, additional prints have been added. The limited-edition prints were created from Lennon’s original drawings. For the color editions, Ono adds the color. The majority of the prints are in editions of 300 with 25 artist proofs. The hand-pulled prints are signed by Yoko Ono Lennon in the left corner and carry John Lennon’s embossed signature and red chop mark.
“Artistically he’s very good,” she says. “This show really respects his spirit. His drawings always were a reflection of his spirit. He was talented that way even when he was 9 or 11 years old. His work from then looks as if it were done by someone much older. He always had a biting humor. One of his art teachers told him, you are so good at it, maybe you can go to art school.”
He might have taken that path but music had a different plan for him. Still, he always found time and ways to exercise his artistic side.
The art show also benefits a local organization in each community it travels to. In this case there is a $2 suggested donation to the U.U. Meeting House, more if you care to give more.
“John would have liked that, that it is a local benefit,” she says. “It is a way to put the focus on the community.”
Unfortunately, Ono rarely gets to travel with the show, She is, in fact, heading out on a two-month performance tour of her own to Europe and Asia this fall. But she says she has been to the Cape and really liked it.
“I’m glad Cape Cod is doing it, it’s right on, isn’t it?” she says, falling into the vernacular of the peace movement.
A part of her tour always included working for peace and getting the message out there that there is an option to war, but only the people can make it happen.
“Individuals, we are the ones who can make change,” she says, sounding as hopeful as she ever did. “Professional politicians get stuck because there is so much red tape. People power is much more powerful.”
When asked what message she thinks Lennon would be sending today, she is quick to respond. “I’d like to think he would be doing exactly what I’m doing but doing it together.”
She does say that his artwork would be changed by new technology.
“If he was doing artwork today he would definitely be doing it on the computer. That would be a big thing for him,” she says.
It is that mix of enjoying the simple things in life while welcoming the new that personified much of what Lennon stood for.
“John was a small revolution. His work spoke directly to people,” she says. “Not like a critic saying this is good, this is not good. When you see his work you just start smiling. Most work in the art field is so serious. You don’t feel that with John’s work.”
If you go:
“Come Together: The Artwork of John Lennon,” traveling exhibition with original drawings and prints, at U.U. Meeting House, 236 Commercial St., Provincetown, Aug. 29-31. Show opens noon-9 p.m. Fri.; 11 am-7 pm Sat; noon-7 pm Sun. Suggested donation to benefit U.U. Meeting House, $2. Artwork available for purchase.
Sue Harrison can be reached at [email protected]