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'Forever Love'

When Beatle John Lennon first met avant-garde artist Yoko Ono in a London art gallery in 1966, it was a thunderclap moment in modern pop-culture history, with big implications for not only Lennon and Ono, but the Beatles and popular music in general.

But in many ways, it was just like any other meet-cute.

"When we first met," said Lennon's now 81-year-old widow in a phone interview, "we talked about our favorite artists and he said that he loved Magritte. Well, I loved Magritte too. I was really surprised that we liked the same artist."

Magritte is, of course, Rene Magritte, the famed surrealist artist who died just a year after John and Yoko met. At the time, Lennon was a world-famous musician and, some would argue, the principal artistic life force of the world's greatest rock band. But he also considered himself a visual artist.

’He Tried to Face Reality.’
'He Tried to Face Reality.'

Lennon's visual art is the subject of a new three-day event in Santa Cruz titled "Come Together," which will feature about 100 limited-edition lithographs, serigraphs and copper etchings, created from Lennon's original drawings (color was added to the drawings after Lennon's death). The show -- taking place Friday, Saturday and Sunday in downtown Santa Cruz -- is a benefit for the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Lennon was captivated by drawing for most of his life going back to childhood. He was not a good student in high school, choosing instead to goof off and play music. His drawings at the time tended toward the outrageous and the satirical, said Ono.


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"The stuff he was doing in high school was incredible," she said. "It was almost like professional work. It was a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff, but he was very good at it."

But he wasn't good in the rest of his schoolwork. "His teachers told him, 'You're not going (to college) because you're so wild. No school's going to want you.' So the art teacher told John, 'You know, you're very good at art. Why don't you try art school?'"

At 17, Lennon was accepted to the Liverpool College of Art. Around the same time, he met Paul McCartney and the two started playing together in a skiffle band called the Quarrymen, which evolved into the Beatles.

But, later, even as the Beatles skyrocketed to international stardom, Lennon never stopped drawing. By the time he had met Yoko, John was drawing as an impulse, as something to occupy his restless mind. The collection of art that will be on display in Santa Cruz -- not quite 100 pieces -- represents only a small fraction of the drawings that Lennon created before his death in 1980.

"A lot of the things that he drew, he just gave to people," said Ono. "If we were in a lawyer's meeting or something, the lawyer would say, 'What are you doing, John?' And he would say, 'Oh, I was just drawing this thing.' (Then the lawyer would say) 'May I have it?' And John would give it to him. I can only assume that a lot of his drawings were given to people long before I came into the picture. I told him, 'John, you can give away your drawings if you want to, just make sure you put your name on it.' He wasn't even doing that."

Ono said that he often dreamed of pursuing a career as a visual artist, but he had only one gallery showing during his lifetime, in London in the summer of 1968. But he still produced art work.

"He did some oil paintings and watercolors, but lots of pencil-and-ink drawings. I happen to have the pencil-and-ink drawings from the time we met. The other stuff, well, I think, they all walked out on us at some point."

In the mid 1970s, after the break-up of the Beatles and a brief period of high-profile artistic/political activism on the part of John and Yoko that resulted in many of his enduring songs such as "Imagine" and "Give Peace a Chance," Lennon retreated from public life and from the music industry to focus on raising his newborn son Sean, the only child he had with Ono. It was a period in which music was not a part of his daily life.

"He just wanted a rest," said Ono, "and he felt he should just concentrate on raising Sean."

But his compulsion to draw remained.

"He was just incessantly doing drawings. Meetings with people, anything that was boring for him, he just kept on drawing. When we would go somewhere on a plane, I (would look over at him) and he was just drawing all the time. Then, he'd look up and say, 'What do you think about this?'" ------ (c)2014 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com Distributed by MCT Information Services