Give This Piece a Chance

In the '70s a New York gallery finally expressed interest in some of John Lennon's drawings. Until then, art spaces had refused even to look at the work of the man they condescendingly called a "pop star," albeit one of the best known in the world. Lennon jumped at the opportunity. When he greeted Lennon, the gallery owner started raving about a new artist he was planning to exhibit. Lennon listened, wondering when the owner would get around to talking about his work. Finally the man said, "Hey, you got a guitar. Why don't you come and play something for us at the opening of the show?"

"John was such a proud person," recalls Yoko Ono, who accompanied him to the meeting. As humiliating as the incident was, Lennon didn't show any resentment, Ono says, as he politely turned down the owner's offer to display some of his work on a remote wall in exchange for the performance. Still, she believes it must have hurt. "I know the other side of him, which was a very vulnerable side."

An accomplished artist in her own right, Ono isn't bothered by the thought that Lennon's fame overshadowed her. "You'd be surprised at the arrogance of artists," Ono laughs. "I don't mind taking second place, because I never think I'm taking it." In fact, 20 years after Lennon's death, Ono is still fighting to get her late husband some respect as a visual artist. Of course, Lennon's cartoonish style and sense of humor didn't help. She has managed to fulfill his wish of having a solo exhibit, which will stop in Houston -- although at a bookstore, not a gallery. Included will be drawings Lennon did for his son Sean, the same ones seen in the children's book real love. Some of the witty captions accompanying the pictures include "the big dog frightens but not always" and "a hippotato."

When Ono started the show, she became infuriated that organizers had colored some of Lennon's sketches. When they insisted that color be added to make them more palatable, Ono relented, on the condition that she have the honor. "It might look like it's colored, but it's not really overwhelming," she says, "so that it doesn't disturb his original drawing."

What does Sean think about these personal items being displayed? "I'd be scared to ask now, because he's 25. He's full of himself, or whatever. He's just doing his music, his work, his touring….And he has his own opinions, very different from ours," Ono says. "He didn't knock on the door and object profusely or anything."

Good thing, too. Because it's in his drawings for Sean that Lennon's artistic philosophy is most visible. As the former Beatle put it: "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."

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Dylan Otto Krider