John Lennon: The Collected Artwork
by Scott Gutterman, with a foreword by Yoko Ono.
Before he was a Beatle and a music legend, John Lennon was an artist. He studied at Liverpool College of Art from 1957 to 1960, where he met his first wife, Cynthia, who died of cancer on April 1. Lennon continued his artwork through the 60s and 70s, leaving a legacy of social revolution, humanitarianism, and artistry.
Scott Gutterman, is the deputy director of the Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side in New York, he writes about music and art. " I love exploring how art and music come together" says Gutterman. John Lennon: The Collected Artwork features more than 200 original pieces many that have never before been published in the U.S., from Lennon’s early childhood up to his death 35 years ago. We meet with Gutterman to learn about John Lennon the artist.
When did the idea for the book come about and how long did it take to put it together?
Michael Madden at Insight asked me if I'd be interested in writing a book about the art of John Lennon. Of course, I jumped at the chance. Michael worked with Yoko Ono and her team, especially Lynne Clifford, for more than a year to gather all the material. My part of the project came together in about nine months.
What was Yoko's involvement in the project?
Yoko Ono was very closely involved in assembling the book from the beginning. She has always taken the view that visual art was just another means of expression for John Lennon, and she had total faith in his abilities to communicate in that area.
Tell us about the book, John Lennon: The Collected Artwork.
The book surveys the drawings John Lennon created throughout all the different phases of his life. It begins with really charming childhood sketches of soccer players and Normans and Saxons in battle. It moves through some satirical drawings from his adolescence, on to the two books he created (both bestsellers, by the way) that he created during the early years of The Beatles, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. It also has sections devoted to his observations of life in New York, his life with Yoko and Sean, and the time he spent in Japan.
How would you describe Lennon's sketches?
They are very accomplished drawings, and they show a side John Lennon that was also revealed through his music: whimsical and observant, with a wild wit and a surrealistic streak. The only way they differ is that they tend to be very optimistic, unlike some of his darker musical offerings.
How did his artwork change throughout the years?
The works from the 60s definitely had a phantasmagorical quality. They became more settled as his life became more settled, with the works from the late 70s showing how happy Lennon was with his life as a husband and father.
What influences do you see on Lennon's sketches?
In terms of sensibility, one of the first influences was Spike Milligan, an actor, author, and creator of "The Goon Show." There was a lot of anarchic humor in that, and Lennon embraced it. Although he studied at the Liverpool Art Academy, a prestigious art school, and had an early intention of going into the visual arts, his work is not really academically based. It's more of a personal reflection on his surroundings.
How did his music fit in with his artwork?
Everything was a form of expression for Lennon, whether it was art, music, or putting forth his political beliefs. He didn't make a sharp separation between categories; in fact, he made a conscious effort to merge these parts of his life into a whole.
What overarching message do you believe Lennon delivered through his sketches?
Lennon always had a sort of "take me as I am" view of the world, which is evident in his drawings. He doesn't hide anything, and it is that honesty that comes through most strongly.
Is there a song or sentence that would describe this book?
I'd say his artwork is summed up by two of his songs: "Gimme Some Truth" and "Imagine." If you want to know a lot more about John Lennon as a person, a lot of it can be found in this book.