City Creek Center may be the new mall downtown, but The Gateway will regain some cultural karma this weekend by hosting The Art of John Lennon, the largest touring exhibition of Lennon’s artwork in North America.
The three-day exhibition has the full co-operation of Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and the John Lennon Estate. It will display more than 120 serigraphs, lithographs and song lyrics (in serigraph form) by Lennon, as well as a rare portfolio of the 14 “Bag One” lithographs hand-signed by the late musician.
The artwork presents “a different side” of Lennon, said Ono in a Tribune interview. “In his artwork, you can see a peaceful person. [There is] a real energy and a joyful feeling.”
Art was Lennon’s first love. He was studying at the Liverpool College of Art while leading The Quarrymen, a skiffle group that evolved into the Beatles, said Rich Horowitz, a former record-store owner who is now curator of Pacific Edge Gallery in Laguna Beach, Calif. “Many walk in and say they never knew he was an artist,” Horowitz said.
Ono said the first time she saw Lennon’s art was in 1967, a year after she met him.
“I had some prejudice against rockers,” she said. “I thought they couldn’t speak more than two syllables.”
But when she looked at his black-and-white drawings, she was “amazed,” noting how every drawing conveyed Lennon’s peculiar sense of humor.
Lennon continued drawing through his years as a Beatle and in 1969 created a portfolio called “Bag One,” a collection of 14 drawings that depicted his and Ono’s wedding and honeymoon. The drawings, which Ono described as “risqué,” were released as lithographs but were confiscated by police in several countries because some believed them to be obscene. Although never convicted on obscenity charges, Lennon became so discouraged by the experience that he mostly abandoned his art until the birth of his son Sean in 1975.
Lennon took time off from music to be a full-time father, and that’s when he began drawing again, alongside Sean, who had inherited his parents’ love of visual art. Sean talked with his father about art and created drawings that made his dad proud. “John would hang them in the hall, about 20 of them,” Ono said.
“You can tell his deep love for Yoko and Sean,” Horowitz said.
When Lennon was killed at age 40 in 1980, Ono had saved several hundred drawings that her husband had created over the years. In 1986, acting for the John Lennon Estate, she worked with the Pacific Edge Gallery to produce lithographs and serigraphs of Lennon’s artwork because she believed that her husband deserved credit as an artist.
Because Ono believed that their life was a collaboration, she added some brushes of color to some of Lennon’s artwork to enhance the meaning of the original drawings, Horowitz said.
Most of the art on display is for sale, ranging from several thousand dollars to as much as $420,000, Horowitz said. But he encourages all who want to learn more about Lennon to browse at the free exhibition, where his songs will be playing.
Come to think of it, that’s another attraction of The Gateway this weekend: The shopping center and exhibition will be open on Sunday, with free parking all day.
Imagine: John Lennon’s artwork
When • Friday and Saturday, May 4-5, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, May 6, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where • The Gateway, 70 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City (near the street-level entrance to Dick’s Sporting Goods).
Info • Free. The exhibition by the California-based Pacific Edge Gallery enjoys the cooperation of Yoko Ono and the John Lennon Estate.