Exhibition of Lennon artwork opening in Chicago

By Karen Hawkins

CHICAGO – Before he was a rock star, John Lennon was an artist.

Lennon spent three years in art school before becoming a full-time musician, and continued to create his unique brand of whimsical drawings and sketches throughout his life, depicting everything from his family to his opposition to war.

For the past 15 years, tours of Lennon’s artwork have traveled the country, and for three days starting Friday, “This is Xmas: A Look into John Lennon’s Life Through His Artwork,” will be on display at downtown’s Hard Rock Hotel Chicago.

The exhibition of more than 100 of Lennon’s drawings and sketches includes 15 that have never appeared in Chicago before. Donations taken at the door will benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, tells The Associated Press that the exhibitions have become a meeting place for Lennon’s fans and those who share his vision of world peace.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Q: How do you decide which pieces go out each year?

A: I just look around and look through the file and based on what I think is good for this year, that kind of thing.

Q: This is a very exciting year, especially in the United States. How did you pick some of the ones for this particular year?

A: Well, of course, they were selected before the big thing (the presidential election) happened, you know, but I think that it’s really good to have John’s exhibition right now because his work is full of life and positivity and a lot of sense of humor and a lot of laughs. … And that’s what we need now.

Q: When people see some of this artwork, what are some of the things that you hope they will take away from it?

A: There are many things that happen that I really had no expectation about. For instance, they go to see John’s work and … they’re surprised that John was so professional, a professional artist … but also still retaining that sort of fun element that he always had. And then they look around and they see that there’s so many people there who also loved John and John’s spirit and the way that they want the world to be or dream about the world to be. So, you know, it’s like meeting a family; it became a kind of meeting place for many people.

Q: Are there any other surprises? You mentioned that people are surprised that the work is so professional.

A: The reason why he was so professional is because he went to art school … many people don’t know that. But when he was in high school, he was a little naughty boy and the teacher said, ‘Well, you can only probably go to art school; let’s try that one.’ And he got in, because he was brilliant, really. He went to art school and he got into the rock-and-roll band after he was an art student.

Q: What are some of the things that you like about the pieces?

A: Well, you have to go there and find it yourself or which one is going to really touch you. And sometimes the ones that I thought (were) not funny at all, people laugh at. But his lines are already funny; it’s amazing how he was. Right now, there’s a lot of … people liking animation stuff, but he was already there.

Q: When would he do some of these pieces? Were they doodles or would he specifically set out to make pieces?

A: If they were doodles, they were still very interesting, but it was not a doodle like the kind that you do when you’re on the phone with somebody. He felt that these were things that he really wanted to create, and people would like to see them in exhibition or something … In fact, he was looking around for an appropriate gallery.

And of course, there was such snobbery in the art world (because) John was really famous already in another field, so he couldn’t get a show that easily. I think the audience is going to be very surprised when they see John’s work, that he has this unique style and he’s a very unique artist.

Q: What are some of the things that really touch you when you see the pieces?

A: Well, of course, I’m human, too, so I say that I get touched when I see that it’s a drawing that John was expressing our love, and a family scene and all that … it’s a reminder for me of how it was great and we had a great family thing.

Q: What’s the best part for you of sharing that with other people?

A: So many of his drawings have to do with his family – Sean, me and all that. And there’s sort of, right now there’s a family breakdown. I just like people to remember that family is a good thing. There were many difficult moments, and all that, but it’s worth continuing.

Q: Was there a specific timing for having the exhibit in Chicago around Thanksgiving?

A: Especially for me, it’s actually a little bit painful to remember the fact that, for John, Thanksgiving meant a lot. He felt like he was joining in and being in America and thanking, like the first Americans … because they had a great communication with the Native Americans. We really always created a great Thanksgiving between us, with the turkey and the pumpkin pudding and all that.

Q: Will you be abroad for Thanksgiving this year?

A: I’m in Tokyo now. One of the reasons that I’m here is because I’m going to be doing a concert called Dream Power … with all the very famous pop and rock stars of Japan. Each one of them sing one song or two songs of John’s. And it’s a tribute to John but also all the proceeds go to creating a school in Africa and in some Asian countries where they need that. In seven years we’ve created 75 schools already. Isn’t that amazing? We’re thinking by … 2010, that we would have created 100 schools. That’s the goal.

Q: You’ll be performing as well?

A: Yes, I’ll be performing, too, but I’m not going to be performing my stuff. … In the end, we’ll all be singing “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance.”

Q: And when does that take place?

A: Dec. 8 (the date Lennon was shot in 1980).

Q: What was your reaction to President-elect Barack Obama’s election?

A: I think that if you look into imaginepeace.com …. you’ll see what my reaction was. It’s just a very delicate subject. I prefer you to read that, the latest thing that I put in there, my reaction of that day Nov. 4.

Everybody was crying on the street, hugging each other, and I was in my apartment crying myself. We were all together. We’re on the same page.

For more information go to www.imaginepeace.com