By S. Pajot, Miami New Times
For a certain kind of pop culture observer, Yoko Ono will always remain defined by her marriage to John Lennon. And Lennon will always remain a Beatle.
These people, though, have misread history. They ignore (or are ignorant of) Ms. Ono’s pre- and post-Lennon work as a conceptual artist, occasional Fluxus member, and noise punk pioneer. They fail to appreciate the profound and positive countereffect that this now 76-year-old artist and icon had upon her husband during their decade and a half together. These people forget that Ono-Lennon were full partners in art, activism, and life.
Maybe, in the end, John’s greatest collaborator wasn’t Paul or George or Ringo. It was Yoko. For 30 years now, she has managed her husband’s legacy, using Lennon’s music, art, and image to help him make the world a better place, even three decades after his death. And the most recent of these philanthropic endeavors is We All Shine On, an Adopt-a-Classroom benefit exhibit and sale of John Lennon serigraphs and lithographs at the Miami Beach Community Church, running January 15 through 17.
New Times: Tell me about John Lennon’s sketches. They’re deceptively simple and very distinctive. How did he arrive at that style?
Yoko Ono: You know, he wasn’t copying anybody. He wasn’t influenced by anybody. That’s what he told me. I think some people said, “Well, you know, you must have gotten it from whatever.” But really, what happened was he started to do drawings when he was about 9 or something. And the kind of drawings that he was doing then was incredible. I mean, it was a very mature comic strip kind of thing. And it had a message. You know, it usually had a kind of cynical idea about what was printed in newspapers. It said Liverpool Echo, which was the name of the Liverpool newspaper then. And having these sort of ugly people mixed in with the Liverpool Echo … It was great.
The music side of the Ono-Lennon collaboration is well known. But did you two collaborate much when it came to drawing or other kinds of visual art?
No. I mean, how could you collaborate on a drawing? You just do it, right? If it’s a collage or sculpture or something, a lot of people do collaborate, but not when it’s just sketches. He was doing that all by himself and it was like a security blanket for him because when he was depressed he’d be doing it. And the drawing didn’t necessarily represent his mood. Usually, the drawings had a happy-go-lucky kind of mood when he was really depressed. And, in that sense, he was kind of trying to give himself a break, I suppose.
How did you become involved with Adopt-A-Classroom?
Oh, I didn’t get involved or anything. I’ll tell you what I do: I send the program when there’s a request and then I check and when I feel it’s alright, then I’ll ask them to recommend a charity. And, you know, they will usually recommend a few charities and I pick something that would have been close to John’s heart.
OK. As for your activism in general, there was a report earlier this week that you traveled to the Philippines and donated $55,000 for Tropical Storm Ketsana relief.
Yes, it was $55,000. But I didn’t travel to the Philippines. I know some people in Tokyo and some Filipinos. They told me about what was going on in the Philippines and I got very saddened by it and I though maybe I could help. But you see this is the kind of thing that’s happening to me all the time. I don’t just give. I only give when my heart tells me, “Oh, this is something I want to help with.” And this situation was one of those things. But it’s not necessarily picked up usually, so it’s very interesting that the media picked up on this one.
To change the topic a bit, the US continues to fight the War in Afghanistan, a nine-year-old conflict. But still there’s no visible peace movement like there was in the ’60s. Do you have any idea why that’s the case?
Well, I think people are sort of scared to take sides on those measures, you know, on a political level. And, you know, the safest way is to go along with what the administration is planning. So people just get scared, I suppose. I only try to help, not by taking sides, but to help children, orphans, or women in need.
Mostly, people recognize John Lennon as a Beatle and a songwriter. But how central is activism or protest to his legacy?
I think it’s very important. But also when you say “protest,” you know, I think some people in the ’60s had the right idea, to do it with a sense of humor or a smile or something. But then some people just decided to pull their anger out and that doesn’t help anybody. We just can’t protest in that sense. I think there are many other, gentler ways of doing it that might be more effective.
Right. Well, for events like this one, the emphasis tends to be on John Lennon’s message of peace and love. But his music sometimes showed an angry and pessimistic side.
Oh, yes, of course. He was just a human being. He didn’t want to cover up his anger and say, well, “peace and love!” And that’s why people liked him, because he was very real and he didn’t hide being real.
Will you be in Miami on January 15 for We All Shine On?
No, I’m sorry I can’t be there. But I’ll be there in spirit and, of course, John’s artwork will speak loudest.
In that case, what would you tell Miamians if you could be here?
Well, John’s going to tell it with his work in a way. But I’d like to mention that his work represents, without saying it, a love and peace kind of world and a sense of humor. And nothing to do with anger … Well, it might have something to do with anger, so I shouldn’t say that. (Laughs) But, in general, it’s to do with peace.
WE ALL SHINE ON
Friday, January 15 through Sunday, January 17.
Miami Beach Community Church, 1620 Drexel Ave., Miami Beach.
Exhibit hours are noon to 9 p.m. on Friday, noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Admission’s free, but a two-dollar donation is suggested.
Call 305-674-4470 or visit adoptaclassroom.org.