- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

Imagine there’s no music, only drawings.

John Lennon could have been a successful artist without playing a note. During the 1960s and ‘70s, the Beatle fluidly sketched whimsical scenes chronicling his life as a songwriter, social critic and family man. “Many people are surprised that John was a professional artist,” said Mr. Lennon’s second wife, Yoko Ono, over the phone from London last week. “He was always looking for a gallery to show his work, but he didn’t have much luck there. Most galleries just thought of him as a famous musician.”

Since the mid-1980s, Ms. Ono has been promoting her late husband’s fine art talent by turning his scribbles into lithographs, serigraphs and etchings, and selling them to raise money for charitable causes. Exhibits of the limited-edition prints, produced in Toronto by Atelier GF and marketed by Legacy Fine Art and Productions of West Palm Beach, Fla., have been touring the country since 1994.

This weekend, “In My Life: The Artwork of John Lennon” comes to Old Town Alexandria, where about 100 prints and a handful of original drawings will be on view in a vacant furniture showroom starting this evening through Sunday. Proceeds from the sale of the artwork, priced from $200 to $20,000, will benefit the Alexandria Seaport Foundation.

Fans of Mr. Lennon will instantly recognize his appealing self-portrait with round glasses and long hair. It exemplifies his loose, playful style and the immediacy of his drawings, achieved through just a few pen strokes.

“He drew like he did his songs,” said Ms. Ono. “There was no planning. He was very quick. The drawings just came.”

Her posthumous translation of the ex-Beatle’s original sketches into prints riles some in the art world who criticize the colored lithographs as more Ms. Ono’s creations than Mr. Lennon’s. In defending the touring prints, the 73-year-old widow said they fulfill her late husband’s unmet desire to have his drawings taken seriously by galleries and the public. “They keep his art alive,” she said.

Many of the images document Mr. Lennon’s days as a house husband while living in the Dakota apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he was killed in 1980. Sketches made during a 1977 family vacation in Japan reveal an interest in that country’s sumi ink art.

Mr. Lennon’s art was also inspired by his music. “Imagine All the People” shows the songwriter sitting astride the planet Earth. Reproductions of his hand-written lyrics to his famous tunes, including “Revolution,” “In My Life,” and “Happy Christmas,” are also for sale.

A conceptual artist who collaborated with her husband on several albums and films, Ms. Ono said she had no influence on his art-making. “It might have been encouraging for him that another artist was there, but our work was so different.”

Before meeting the Japanese-born artist at a London gallery, Mr. Lennon, who trained at the Liverpool Art Institute, illustrated publications of his satirical writings. One print in the touring show is based on the 1965 drawing “Sherlock Lennon,” a parody of the English detective, Sherlock Holmes, which was part of his book, “A Spaniard in the Works.”

As a wedding present for his wife, the Beatle sketched a diary of their marriage ceremony, honeymoon and well-publicized “bed-in for peace” at the Amsterdam Hilton. Erotic images from the “Bag One” portfolio were subsequently exhibited in 1970 at the London Art Gallery. On the second day of the show, the lithographs were confiscated by the police as violating obscenity laws. They since have become part of the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Ms. Ono, who selects Mr. Lennon’s drawings for reproduction, said her choice of images is based on “the ones that inspire me, that are relevant to today.” After learning that a gallery wanted to add bright colors to the black-and-white artwork, she initially balked but then agreed to pick the shades herself.

“The idea is not to interfere with his drawings and just to have a touch of color,” she said. As for running out of originals to print, she admitted, “there are still some in the closet.”

Although she wouldn’t name her favorite Lennon creation, Ms. Ono reminisced about Mr. Lennon doodling with their young son Sean, who would name the subject to be sketched. The results were charming vignettes of animals that she turned into prints and a children’s book, “Real Love: The Drawings for Sean,” published in 1999. Carter’s, a manufacturer of children’s apparel, subsequently licensed the artwork for a line of clothing, bedding, furnishings and toys.

Today, the 30-year-old Sean Lennon continues his father’s legacy as a musician who also sketches on the side. “His drawings are very precise and beautiful,” said Ms. Ono with motherly pride. “He is the most established artist of all of us.” Could another series of Lennon prints be far behind?

WHAT: “In My Life: The Artwork of John Lennon”

WHERE: 1006 King St., Alexandria

WHEN: Today 5 to 9 p.m.; tomorrow 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

ADMISSION: Suggested $2 donation

PHONE: 888/278-1969; 703/838-5005

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