Yoko Ono has been an avant-garde musician, a pioneer of performance and conceptual art, a global autism ambassador and a human rights activist. But to most of us, she will always remain first and foremost John Lennon's wife. Thirty years after his death, Ono does not shy away from this association, and continues to direct the spotlight away from herself and onto him.
Come Together: The Artwork of John Lennon is an exhibit of original drawings, lithographs and serigraphs by Lennon, who was a visual artist long before he became a musician, never mind an integral member of the most legendary rock group of all time. His cartoon-influenced caricatures reflect the same humorous and childlike spirit that was evident in much of his musical output with The Beatles and his own bands. Ono organized the exhibit in the 1980s, and it has been touring the country ever since. This weekend, the exhibit comes to Franklin, and the Scene had an opportunity to talk with Ono about it.
She spoke from her studio in New York about the exhibit, her own art and her relationship with John, punctuating her insights with a girlish giggle that belies her 78 years.
Do you think of this exhibit as a collaboration with John?
It is definitely a collaboration. I'm just a conduit for him to express himself through the work, I suppose. And in a way it's very interesting. It's very timely now, because we need some kind of positive and fun feeling around, and art can give that. But otherwise it's just a very depressing time. We're all thinking, "Oh dear, what's going to happen now?" And so it's nice to hear John's voice, for one, and it's nice to see what John was envisioning.
I feel like people are going to be familiar with the work in the exhibit. I grew up with John's art in my bedroom.
Well, you're thinking people are very familiar with the work, but I don't think so. I think you were a very special case. And a lot of young ones who weren't there — teenagers, and even younger — they love the experience. They don't think it's going to be that interesting, and they just sort of wander in, and [they think], "Oh, this is interesting," and suddenly the door is open to John's work, and it's great.
So you feel that this is a chance to introduce people to John's work who may not have been exposed to it before?
All I can say is that it's interesting that John's work is communicating stronger now, because of how society is now. [The Come Together exhibit] started in the Reagan era, and at the time John's fans were having a very difficult time in school, because they were saying, "We believe in peace and love," and other kids would say, "We are at war, and you are against what our country is doing." There was a lot of very fierce conversation going on. Right now it's a very different age, because most people are dying to have a world of peace, and so it's really getting nice, actually. [Back then,] being good was not hip. Being hip was being bad, even in language.
Even speaking well wasn't cool.
Right, but now it's changing, and people want goodness. It's getting too dangerous to be just bad, bad, bad.
I think your work has probably had an influence on that, with the idea that just to imagine peace will bring some sort of change. How do you feel that John's art and your art compare?
Well I think that together, we're filling the whole place. The avant-garde and the classic.
How do you reconcile your place in the avant-garde art world with your role as the caretaker of John's art?
Oh, it's really not a very difficult thing to discuss, because I was and I am his wife, and a partner as well, and I feel very strongly about not forgetting about his work. It's very important that I would promote his work as well. One of the reasons is, of course, he trusted me, and he felt that I can take care of it, and I'm going to take care of it.
You have always gotten a lot of attention — not always the good kind — and controversy seems to follow you wherever you go. Why do you think that is?
Well, you know, that happens. I think it was very educational for me. It was very good. Now I can see that, because I came out of it. It was an education for me, I think.
What did it teach you?
People were hating me, and the whole world was hating me. And I could have died because of that. And I thought, "OK, I have to do something about that. I know I can turn this energy, this strong energy that's coming to me, and change it into good energy," which I seem to have done. And so now I'm just full of love.
That's incredible. I read that you had thought that after John was shot, that you were going to be next. What a scary thing to have to go through.
It was a scary, scary experience, and also it was so unfair and everything. I never thought I would have to experience that. Nobody would think that. Most widows, they never think they're going to be widows. But, you know, I had to go through it and I did, and I think I'm wiser for it, maybe.
We're all really excited about this show.
When you see the show, you will probably understand why it is so popular and going around. Because I think it does give people a lot of inspiration and encouragement.
And you're partnering with The Second Harvest Food Bank.
Isn't that great? It's important that I do it, and so I will do it. It's not something that I should miss at all. ... Especially because I'm an artist myself and I know that John would have liked his art to still communicate, and it has a real benefit for people too, not just because it's good for John to communicate, but because he had such an incredible beautiful energy, and you're going to get that when you're there.
In the spirit of imagining there is no hunger, a $2 donation will be accepted at the door to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.