Yoko Ono promotes Lennon's artwork, on display in Oak Brook (Illinois)
Yoko Ono (May 30, 2012)
By Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune reporter
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Yoko Ono was an established artist before she met John Lennon, but 31 years after her husband's murder, her career runs on two tracks: managing Lennon's work with and apart from the Beatles and pursuing her own idiosyncratic muse.
The curator side of her is bringing "The Artwork of John Lennon" to Oak Brook's DoubleTree hotel Friday through Sunday. The location's hook is that police in March of 1970 raided Merrill Chase's Oak Brook gallery and confiscated some of Lennon's work on obscenity grounds (Chicago Daily News headline: "Du Page court order: Lennon art to be burned").
Now Lennon's artwork is best known for being on baby blankets, pajamas and lamp shades, though we're likely not talking about the same images that got him in trouble.
The show, which benefits Gilda's Club Chicago for cancer support, will feature Lennon drawings, sketches and lyrics on display mostly in serigraphs (a type of print), as well as lithographs and some originals. (Ono won't be there.)
Meanwhile, the 79-year-old Ono received Austria'sprestigious Oskar Kokoschka Prize for contemporary art earlier this spring and is maintaining her own music career while expressing herself frequently to her 2.35 million Twitter followers. Sample tweets: "Count all the puddles on the street when the sky is blue" and "Imagine two billion universes. Visualize yourself on a planet in each universe."
In a phone conversation from New York, Ono talked about Twitter, the contrasts between her and her late husband's art, and her feelings about the Beatles and Paul McCartney.
Q: Do you write your own Tweets?
A: Oh, yes, of course. Nobody else does.
Q: Tell me about using Twitter to reach out to people.
A: Oh, I think it's a very beautiful thing that's happening because it's like haiku … kind of action haiku, shall we say? We communicate. We exchange. It's great.
Q: How do you balance the art that you're working on and John's art that you're promoting?
A: I really believe in John's work, and John's work should not be shelved. People should not remember him just for "I Want To Hold Your Hand" or something (laughs). I've been promoting his work quite extensively for the past, what, 30 years, is it?
Q: How do you balance the art-world aspects and the more commercial aspects of these Legacy art shows?
A: I'm hoping that I'm bringing it out in the way that it was in his spirit, you know, instead of saying, "Wow, let's make this into a real sort of commercial stuff." I can't do it that way, so it probably won't be that commercial, but there are many, many beautiful people who come to these shows. They might be already fans, but some people just come in and they're pretty surprised that something like this, which is pure and beautiful and fun, is still around — without being killed by commercialism.
Q: These are reproductions or lithographs or limited editions. How does that work?
A: OK, original and lithographs and serigraphs. Most of them are serigraphs.
Q: Has he signed them, or have you signed some of them for him?
A: His originals, of course, are signed by him, and the serigraphs are signed by me, yeah. I'm not signing his name. I'm just signing that this is authentic and we're putting it out, so I'm signing my name.
Q: Do you think that his art and your art have a similar message?
A: Similar message, yes, but in a very different way. We were expressing in a very different way.
A: I'm very conceptual, and he believed in realism, I think. His work was extremely kind of right-on, hands-on with people. It's communicating much more than mine, actually.
Q: His art is also on baby blankets and a lot of other products. Is there any one item that tickles you the most?
A: The Beatles were very, very early and revolutionary, too, in the sense that they did their lunch boxes, and people said, "Lunch boxes, what are they doing?" But I'm very proud of that. I'm very proud of the fact that John as a Beatle did that as well, and we're doing John Lennon merchandise too.
Q: Is there one piece of merchandise that is your favorite?
A: No, they're all good. With John's T-shirts, I always make sure that there's a message on it. He had so many different messages, so it's good in that sense. It's not just a big face of John or something. He's saying something, like "Power to the People," "Give Peace a Chance" or "Imagine Peace."
Q: How do you divide up your energy? Do you spend most of it doing any one thing?
A: A combination of things. I just do it because I just do it. There's an old sort of fable or something, a huge, huge dragon has eight legs or something, and she was walking very, very swiftly and smoothly, and somebody said, "How do you do it with eight legs?" And she said, "Hmm, let me think about it," and then she couldn't do it anymore because she thought about it (laughs).
Q: Do you think you'll be more remembered for your art or for your music?
A: I have no idea. They probably will remember me as somebody who was with John Lennon (laughs).
Q: Do you have any more musical performances on tap?
A: I'm going to have a lot performances this year, and I already have plans for next year too. Next year I'm going to be 80, so more organizations want me to do something for my 80th birthday year because that's just a little additional thing that might bring people in or something, I don't know.
Q: Will you get the Plastic Ono Band back together for that?
Q: When was the last time you listened to a Beatles album?
A: (laughs) I listen to it every day. We're doing this business together, and there's things that we have to listen to.
Q: Do you have a favorite album?
A: Uh, no. Each one had some incredible beauty in it. It's just fantastic, especially when you listen to songs now. It's all right that people are creating songs that are very complex and respecting this world now, you know, but those days what they were doing was so beautiful.
Q: Five versions of the McCartney album "Ram" were released today, including a box set.
A: (sing-songy) Uh-hu-uh.
Q: Would you ever have thought that album would get a multiple-version rerelease?
A: (laughing) No, no.
Q: Do you have any interest in getting that one?
A: Well, I don't know (laughs). Let me think about that one (laughs more). I'll tell you what: This whole idea that I totally don't like Paul's thing or something is wrong. He's a very, very good songwriter. Obviously everybody knows that, and I wish him well. I wish that he would keep on doing it.
Q: Do you have pets?
A: We had pets. We had four cats and one dog, actually. I don't have any now. I'm so busy; I just don't want to know about anything except my work and myself. It's very important that I take care of myself so that I could stay healthy, you know?
Q: Do you think "Let It Be" will ever come out on DVD?
A: It's very possible, yeah. Logically speaking, it has to come out (eventually).
Q: That's the one thing that hasn't come out, and I'm always trying to figure out who doesn't want it out.
A: It's to do with — that's what's very, very good about the Beatles and Apple and all that. It's because we still care and we don't want to just dish out something: "Oh that one, let's just dish it out." People go through all the stuff and say, "Should we put the outtake in there?" "No, no, no, it didn't work out so well" or whatever. They really try to make it (right) and then bring it out. So I think that's a very good trait, instead of "Wow, this is so popular, we can just dish it out."
Q: Do you think John would have been proud that the Beatles can still be a top seller on vinyl and in all these other areas?
A: Yeah, he would probably come out and say, "I'm the one who created the Beatles. Just remember." (laughs)
"The Artwork of John Lennon" runs Friday (noon-8 p.m.), Saturday (11 a.m.-7 p.m.) and Sunday (11 a.m.-6 p.m.) at the DoubleTree by Hilton, 1909 Spring Road, Oak Brook. $2 suggested donation to benefit Gilda's Club Chicago.