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Posthumous respect for Lennon the artist at Irvine exhibit

Posthumous respect for Lennon the artist at Irvine exhibit
"Dream Power" is part of "The Art of John Lennon" exhibit at the Irvine Spectrum Center. (Handout, Daily Pilot)

John Lennon would have been a productive 21st century man. His widow is sure of that.

If the former Beatle and peace activist had lived to see 9/11, he would have bent the media to his formidable will — through campaigning, through slogans, quite possibly through song. And when Facebook and Twitter became everyday tools, the man who relished mass communication is likely to have kept his accounts humming all day.

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"Those [websites] were just like as if they were made for John," Yoko Ono said by phone last week from her apartment at the Dakota in New York, where she was living with Lennon when he was fatally wounded by a gunman in 1980. "Oh, he would be on a computer all day and night."

As flights land at Liverpool John Lennon Airport and fans continue to count the years since the artist's birth and death, it's evident that Lennon's aura has outlived the century that it helped define. And this weekend, the local proof of his longevity may reside at the Irvine Spectrum Center, which will host the touring exhibit "The Art of John Lennon" for three days.

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The show, overseen by the Pacific Edge Gallery in Laguna Beach, features more than 120 limited-edition prints based on Lennon's drawings and lyric sheets, plus signed lithographs, including ones from "Bag One," a London gallery show that opened in 1970 and was promptly raided by authorities because of its sexual content.

Every year, Pacific Edge organizes touring exhibits in three or four cities, according to Richard Horowitz, a partner at the gallery. The initiative began in 1990, with the first exhibit held at a record store that Horowitz owned.

"At first, we thought, 'Who's going to buy art at a record store?'" he said. "But it was Lennon, and it totally fit."

According to Ono, who married Lennon in 1969 as the Beatles were disintegrating, that matchup of genres didn't always work so smoothly. Lennon, she said, had dreamed of being a visual artist since childhood. In the late 1950s, during the fledgling days of his music career, he took classes at the Liverpool College of Art.

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As Beatlemania spread worldwide, the bandmates found themselves in demand in mediums beyond music. Lennon played acting roles in films such as "How I Won the War," and his books, "In His Own Write" and "A Spaniard in the Works," readily found publishing deals. His fame as a musician, though, sometimes made it tough to break into the professional art scene, according to Ono.

Sometimes, she said, gallery owners would approach Lennon about hosting a show of his work, only to explain that they wanted him to help promote an up-and-coming artist — and, sure enough, to bring his guitar to the opening-night reception.

"That kind of thing was very, very hurtful to him," Ono said. "He couldn't get a real good deal of getting his work to be shown. That's because the art world, you know, has their own idea about art, and when they heard that it's John's work, it was, 'Oh, you mean a rocker's work? Well, forget it.' They didn't even want to see it."

Even Lennon, Ono said, soon soured on the notion of trying to exhibit his work in public. After his death, though, she began issuing limited editions of his drawings. By now, the words "John Lennon" may evoke the image of the singer's famous self-portrait — eyeglasses slightly lopsided, long hair spilling unevenly on both sides, mouth a tiny hyphen — as much as any bars from "Help!" or "Strawberry Fields Forever."

Ono, who became accustomed over the years to watching Lennon dash off illustrations, is glad to see that passion vindicated in the public eye. During her occasional visits to the touring shows, she's taken note of millennials browsing the exhibit space.

"There's so many people who want to know about John, more and more and more about John," she said. "And these are all young people, you know. So that means that John is going to stay around for quite a while."

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If You Go

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What: "The Art of John Lennon"

Where: Irvine Spectrum Center, 827 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine (across from H&M)

When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Free

Information: (949) 494-0491 or http://www.lennonart.com

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