It was fitting, maybe inevitable, that Yoko Ono and John Lennon met in an art gallery at a showing of her work in London. Now, more than 40 years later, Ms. Ono has established a tradition of exhibiting Mr. Lennon’s art around the United States to celebrate her late husband’s passion for peace and love, which she says with a matter-of-factness that restores those words to their late-1960s meaning, before they became glib catchphrases for many people.
The exhibit of Mr. Lennon’s artwork comes to the Vineyard Friday, August 3 through Sunday, August 5 at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown.
In a phone interview with the Gazette, Ms. Ono recalled the couple’s first meeting. “He came to my show at the Indica Gallery in London. We were both very proud, self-reliant people when we met. We didn’t immediately hug each other or anything like that,” she chuckled softly. “We kind of looked at one another for a while.”
Mr. Lennon trained initially as an artist before music took him on a very significant detour, with the Beatles and later as a soloist. “He was a songwriter,” Ms. Ono said with a flair for understatement, before adding, “a brilliant one.”
After the group’s breakup and the couple’s move to New York (“He was not the only one to leave the Beatles,” she volunteers on that sensitive subject), John became more family-oriented, she said, and took up art again. His drawings and paintings reflect that mindset as well as his wry sense of humor.
“Even when he was nine years old,” Ms. Ono said, “John was producing extremely satirical drawings. They could have gone into the Liverpool Echo, the newspaper.”
But it is mainly Mr. Lennon’s capacity for love that comes through in his work, she said. “He was a very gentle and kind person. People say, ‘Oh, he couldn’t have been that way.’ But he was — otherwise, I wouldn’t have stayed with him. And he had a wonderful sense of humor.”
Those qualities seem to surface in a number of pieces that will be on exhibit: an apparent self-portrait of a disarmingly relaxed John, sans clothes, sitting blissfully against a palm tree; John and Yoko floating cross-legged and happy on a cloud; and two other almost childlike works entitled Fish Winking and Crabs Crabbing.
Ms. Ono said the exhibit does not represent a hard sell of any particular philosophy. “People will get out of it what they want to get out of it,” she said. “I hope they will understand John better. He was a very complex person as well as an activist.”
Some of the proceeds of the show will go to the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA. “In keeping with John’s strong spirit, it’s very important that the money goes to the right causes,” Ms. Ono said. “I make sure we focus on nonprofit centers.”
Ms. Ono added that she still thinks of Mr. Lennon almost constantly. “We were together in great depth.” To this day, she said, “It is hard not to think about that.”
Still, she stresses the independence that also marked their relationship. “I am not just continuing his message,” she said. “I was an activist before I met him and he was an activist as well.”
That independence, even in his death, continues today. “In the beginning [of John’s art showings], I had to go” to each exhibit to help establish the tradition, she said. “Now John’s artwork is independent. It stands on its own.”
This is the second year (the first was in 2009) that the Island will host the exhibit, which was started more than 20 years ago. Ms. Ono does not plan to come to the Vineyard for the show, which is billed as “an opportunity to see John as an artist in the true sense of the word . . . through his drawings, sketches and written words from his days as a Beatle up until his untimely death.” She said she did enjoy her two visits to the Island in the past. “It’s thought of as a place with famous politicians, artists and actors,” she said.
“I do know that on Martha’s Vineyard there are people who understand John’s work, who are sensitive to his message of peace and love.”
The artwork of John Lennon will be shown at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown on Friday, August 3 from noon to 8 p.m., Saturday, August 4 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, August 5, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.