Long before he was a Beatle, John Lennon was expressing his feelings not through song but through drawings and sketches he loved to create.
After his music exploded around the world, Lennon could do just about anything, with a notable exception — one that made a lasting impression on avant-garde Japanese artist Yoko Ono after the two met at one of her art exhibitions in 1966.
"He said he could have had an art gallery exhibition of his work, but now he couldn't because he was a Beatle," Ono recalled in an email this week, remembering an early conversation about the role art played in his life.
For the last 20 years, Ono has turned Lennon's dream into reality, albeit posthumously, with a regularly touring exhibition, "The Art of John Lennon," which brings its latest collection of his pieces to West Hollywood for a three-day run this weekend to benefit the Adopt the Arts Foundation.
The exhibition, which targets different local charities in each community it visits, runs Friday through Sunday and encompasses nearly 100 artworks in the economical, often whimsical, Picasso-like style that Lennon practiced throughout his life, along with handwritten lyrics to about two dozen of his Beatles and solo career songs.
The West Hollywood-based Adopt the Arts Foundation was started in 2012 by former Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum to bolster arts education in public schools, which Ono cited as a reason to earmark proceeds from door donations to the organization from the L.A.-area tour stop.
"John's work is ideal for public education," Ono said. "In this confused and violent world, it is important that we give kids a chance to get a good education in art and music, and maybe one day they may become musicians and artists of our future."
That's the way it worked for actress Jane Lynch, one of the stars of "Glee" and an early celebrity supporter of Adopt the Arts as well as a champion for stronger arts education in public schools.
"I know how important it was for me," said Lynch, who recently hosted a benefit for the foundation at her West Hollywood home with Ileana Douglas. "It was huge. I was in the chorale, and it was the last hour of every school day. That hour was the most important hour of my life. We did plays, sang concerts — if it weren't for that, I don't know what I'd be doing today."
In its short two years, Adopt the Arts has grown from helping pay for a music teacher at a single school in West Hollywood to underwriting programs in three schools.
"When arts and music programs are cut, you cut out the life source for a lot of these kids," she said.
Both served as a lifeline for Lennon, who studied art for a time before throwing himself into rock 'n' roll with fellow Liverpudlians Paul McCartney, George Harrison and, later, Ringo Starr.
For the West Hollywood exhibition, held in a storefront space on Robertson Boulevard, Ono said, "I wanted to send out works which were not seen there before, as well as some oldies for people who are coming to John's show for the first time."
She cited no individual favorites among the pieces she's chosen for this show, noting that "I select each one myself because I'm excited with each one of them."
The touring exhibitions usually set up in atypical locations rather than established art galleries, part of the public spirit of many of Lennon and Ono's art, music and peace campaigns during their lives together.
Asked whether Lennon was at all hesitant to share his artwork with her when they first began seeing each other, in that he was the relative neophyte in a world where she was widely known and respected, Ono said, "In private life, he was actually a rather shy person.
"But when it came to his work," she added, "he was never shy."
'The Art of John Lennon'
Where: 101 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood
When: Noon to 8 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m to 6 p.m. Sunday
Cost: Free, suggested donation: $3 (benefits Adopt the Arts Foundation)
Info: (888) 278-1969 or LennonArtwork@aol.com