John Lennon had quite the beguiling way with a squiggle.
That much is clear from his simple self-portrait which graced the posters for the 1988 documentary, “Imagine: John Lennon,” or from his drawings like “Honeymoon,” showing Lennon, suitcase in hand, striding alongside Yoko Ono just after the two were married in Gibraltar in 1969.
For those curious to see his handiwork in the flesh (or, rather, to see limited-edition prints created from his drawings and handwritten song lyrics), a free three-day exhibit opens Friday at BlackRapid, a camera-accessories business in Lower Queen Anne.
The short span of the show and the unlikely venue are puzzling. But if you think of it as an alternate form of rock-star touring, “The Art of John Lennon” makes a certain sense.
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Former San Diego record-store owner Richard Horowitz came up with the artwork-on-the-road concept in 1990, got Ono’s blessing for it, and has been bringing the former Beatle’s work to various cities ever since.
Ron Henry, the founder/owner of BlackRapid, first met Horowitz at a photography show in Los Angeles in 2012. Upon his return to Seattle, Henry got in contact with Horowitz about bringing the Lennon show here. In a phone interview last month, Ono said that while she’s “hands-on” in preparing Lennon’s work for public exhibit, she leaves all display logistics to Horowitz and his collaborators.
“The only thing I say is: ‘Keep it pretty simple and not too expensive, because most of it is going to be bought by fans, and they don’t have that much money.’ ”
While the show is free to all comers, the prints are for sale, with prices ranging from $300 to $20,000. The artwork itself is a visual journal, chronicling the couple’s quiet moments at home or while traveling.
“When he was doing something like that,” she recalls, “I’d be doing something. There was a kind of communication that was very relaxed, because he’s doing his own work and I’m doing my own work. … So neither of us were frustrated,” she says with a chuckle.
She sees a facet of his personality at play in his quick-sketch work that isn’t so apparent in his music: “His sense of humor is coming through much more than in his songs.”
During his life, Lennon did try to find an art gallery that would take him on, but he didn’t have much luck. “In those days,” Ono explains, “people thought, ‘OK, it’s just a rocker’s babbling’ — that kind of thing.”
Ono, of course, has her own projects to keep her busy. Does having the responsibility of caring for Lennon’s legacy ever weigh heavily on her?
Not at all, she says.
“It’s my pleasure to always do something for John’s work, because I’m an artist myself, and that means that I know how frustrating being an artist can be. … I really think that John would have loved it. I mean, John is loving it, I think — the fact that I’m showing his work.”
Another reason for doing the free exhibits is equally simple.
“It makes people happy,” Ono says. “It’s really nice to give something to people.”
A third motive: The shows bring like-minded people together.
“They go for peace and love,” she says, “and they love John. So there’s: ‘Oh, you’re here too? … I’m here for the same idea.’ And it becomes a kind of group show.”
Ono herself enjoyed a career retrospective at Seattle’s International Festival of Films by Women Directors in 1992, and fans of her experimental movies from the 1960s (“Fly,” “No. 4: Bottoms”) may wish she’d tend to her own legacy as diligently as she’s tending to Lennon’s. When asked if her films will ever come out on DVD, the 80-year-old Ono isn’t sure: “A lot of things are happening now.”
Among those things: making dance-club hits. A tune called “Hold Me” became her tenth No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart earlier this year.
As for the films: “I might get around to it much later. … That has a lot to do with the fact that I’m a control freak,” she acknowledges with a laugh. “I can’t just let other people take care of it. Especially things like films — they don’t know how it was supposed to be.”
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org