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Imagine all the talent
September 23, 2000

Imagine all the talent
John Lennon was more than a musician. He was also an artist and, as what would have been his 60th birthday nears, his work will be on display for the first time in Canada

Terry Ott
National Post
A piece of John Lennon's art.

Another piece of John Lennon's art.

A third piece of John Lennon's art.

Yoko Ono

John Lennon's lasting legacy is, of course, his music. But the singer-composer also dabbled in a sideline -- painting -- and the Royal Ontario Museum will celebrate this second talent with The Art of John Lennon show, which will run for the first two weeks of October.

The exhibit, timed to coincide with what would have been Lennon's 60th birthday on Oct. 9, is being billed by the ROM as a "whimsical exhibit that features the Canadian premiere of 12 drawings from Lennon's children's book."

"I think things happen in a very organic way," says Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, on the phone from her apartment in the fabled Dakota building in New York. "It's very interesting, especially timing-wise. Sometimes we plan something, and it just doesn't happen. But this year, it's great, because timing is something I don't have much control over. I never say, 'Well, I'll wait until John's 60th birthday or whatever.' I never do that."

Ono, who expects to be in Japan on the anniversary date, thinks the tour helps show a very different side of Lennon's creative talents.

"I think that as a rocker, John always felt that he had to kind of show this tough side, his macho side as well," Ono says. "That side was important for the rock world. But through the drawings, he found that he did not always have to be the macho guy. So he was showing the other side of him, which, of course, I saw at home."

The show features drawings from Real Love, the children's book Lennon drew for his son, Sean -- who turns 25 on Oct. 9 -- during John's celebrated househusband period when he "retired" from making records. The small, hardcover book, originally released last year to warm reviews, features soft-edged, full-colour drawings of Sean, John and Yoko interacting with the world, and is still available at most booksellers for about $20.

Ono has entrusted the art tour to Pacific Edge Gallery of Laguna Beach, Calif., whose curator, Richard Horowitz, first became involved with the Lennon estate in 1990, when he exhibited his own collection of Lennon art in his record store in San Diego. The response was encouraging enough for Horowitz to attempt a show in Seattle, which was attended by Lynne Clifford, director of Ono's Bag One Art productions. Clifford liked what she saw in Seattle so much that she recommended to Ono that the Lennon estate give Horowitz full co-operation.

Horowitz is a zealous collector of Lennon art. He started with the infamous Bag One collection (now worth an estimated US$60,000) of 15 erotic lithographs that were signed by Lennon at stompin' Ronnie Hawkins' manor during a whirlwind visit to Toronto and Ottawa in December, 1969. Drawn by Lennon during the period from 1968 to 1969, the erotic lithographs feature John and Yoko in various stages of passion and were criticized by some politicians, moralists and lawmakers for their "lewd" content. (The original Bag One lithographs, which John signed at Hawkins' former home in Streetsville and which consisted of eight erotic drawings and seven others featuring John and Yoko's marriage, were almost lost to a fire on Dec. 22, 1969, when packing paper caught fire in Hawkins' barn.)

Horowitz, who was with the show at its recent stop in Washington, D.C., says there will be "between 100 and 110 different drawings on display, including 12 drawings from Real Love. And we will also be premiering the drawing called Daydream, which has never been seen in Canada before. It is a drawing that John did with sumi ink, using an Asian technique that John had mastered really well."

He adds: "We will also be bringing along three original pen-and-ink drawings from John's Japanese dictionary [Lennon was teaching himself to speak Japanese with the aid of drawings]. Two of them are on loan from Yoko and are not for sale.

"The one that is for sale is called With Love, John. It is a self-portrait of John, a sun and a little children's drawing of a sheep. It's signed by both John and Yoko.

"Someone could actually walk away with an original, totally authenticated, never offered for sale before, John Lennon drawing for US$8,000," Horowitz says. There will also be Bag One lithograph reproductions signed by Ono and a Lennon art catalogue for sale. And Ronnie Hawkins may even make an appearance at the exhibit at some point during its 10-day visit.

As well as the Lennon art exhibit, the ROM is hosting two related events. On Oct. 6, University of Toronto music professor James Kippen will lecture ($7 admission fee) on the "indispensability of John Lennon to the Beatles." And on Oct. 13, the Greg Godovitz Orchestra and Choir, featuring Canadian '80s pop sensation Goddo, will perform a tribute to the Beatles' music at the ROM's Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall.

Admission to The Art of John Lennon tour at the ROM, on Fridays between 4:30 and 9:30 p.m., is free. Regular admission to The Art of John Lennon is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $6 for children aged 5 to 14. Phone (416) 586-8000 or visit the ROM at www.rom.on.ca.

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