There’s a reason Ono is an icon. Long before she met and married the late John Lennon, she was an artist in her own right, influencing the avant-garde world. As her husband famously put it, she was the “most famous unknown artist.” It was through her relationship with the former Beatle that she gained a place in pop culture history.
John and Yoko were synonymous in the late 1960s and early ’70s, sharing their separate but converging careers and lives. The couple created a world of their own complete with bed-ins, bagisms, art, music, politics and family — their son, Sean, was born on Lennon’s 35th birthday. And 33 years after John’s murder, Ono carries on his legacy.
“Both of us together were activists and we were doing whatever we can. When there’s an interest that we felt was important we just did it,” she says enthusiastically while fighting off coughs. “In general we were interested in bringing peace to the world.”
Ono, 80, has completed many projects dedicated to Lennon including the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park and the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. On Friday, a traveling art exhibition — aptly titled “IMAGINE” — comes to Palm Springs. The exhibition features drawings, sketches and written words by Lennon from his Beatles days up until his death in 1980.
“It’s very difficult to explain about his artwork in one or two sentences but one thing I can say is that he has an incredible sense of humor that actually came up more in his artwork than in his music. His music of course has a sense of humor too but there are many heavy songs as well. In the artwork he doesn’t have many heavy things in that sense, it’s very beautiful and light and it just makes people smile,” says Ono. “I like the fact that other people can see John’s work and see John as an artist. I feel very good about that. And I’m sure that John would love it, too.”
The exhibition will benefit The Meals on Wheels Program at the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs, echoing Lennon and Ono’s humanitarian efforts. Ono’s “Imagine There’s No Hunger” campaign kicked off in 2008; since then there’s been an annual celebration and commitment to alleviate hunger globally.
“I actually experienced hunger during the second World War was in a location where all the kids were evacuated. It was very hard,” Ono recalls. “I know exactly what it means to be hungry and I don’t want other people to have that experience.”
And while she’s short on her negative experiences, she brightens up when asked about her recent endeavors. Ono and son Sean have recently released a video against fracking — a controversial technique used to release petroleum, natural gas or other substances for extraction. Proponents of fracking argue the economic benefits, while opponents say there are dire environmental impacts referring to common chemical leaks during the process.
“Artist Against Fracking are mostly artists but there are some famous people in the New York state,” Ono says. “It’s just plain simple that fracking is not good for the health of the people, animals and nature that we have. And we have beautiful, beautiful land.”
The video features an anthem titled “Don’t Frack My Mother,” perfomed by Sean Lennon featuring Ono repeating “don’t frack me” with other celebrities lip-syncing along. Like many of John’s songs, it’s catchy but the subject is serious.
“John and I tried to do as much as possible and now alone I’m doing exactly what we used to do together,” says Ono. “And I think that probably John’s spirit is helping us.”
Written by Lynn Lieu The Desert Sun