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Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

In Lennon’s Life

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It's hard to forget John Lennon singing the words "There are places I'll remember, all my life" on the Beatles' 1965 album Rubber Soul. Lennon was more than a charismatic musical figure, however: He was a visual artist as well.

Lennon picked up a pencil long before his mother Julia bought him his first guitar as a teenager. His talent consistently evolved, leading him to art school and a working practice as a visual artist afterwards. The exhibition "Coming Together Through the Art of John Lennon" opens Aug. 16 at the Waukesha County Historical Society and Museum. It explores both the musical and visual dimensions of his intensely creative genius.

The exhibition features 27 pieces of Lennon's artwork, including original and limited prints, chosen from the private collection of a mysterious Waukesha benefactor. The museum claims this assemblage of images is the third largest collection of Lennon art in the world and has never before been displayed to the public. All items will be returned to the collector when the exhibit closes on Sept. 1, perhaps never to be shown again.

Included with these drawings is Beatle memorabilia, including candid photographs taken by Milwaukee DJ Bob Barry, a local radio personality on hand for the band's 1964 concert in the Milwaukee Auditorium.

But the essential fascination with this exhibit is Lennon's own artwork. While attending the Liverpool College of Art from 1957 to 1960, Lennon drew cartoons he called "The Daily Howl," which combined grotesque figures with editorial text. Often using the sort of nonsense words or rhymes he employed in songwriting, these cultural and political statements married pictures and words, exposing Lennon's imagination in the process.

The pen, pencil and sumi ink drawings in the exhibition, predominantly in black and white, reveal many of the controversial ideals that inspired Lennon. Several illustrated characters from his 1965 publication A Spaniard In the Works appear, as does the drawing Double Fantasy John and Yoko, depicting his affection for Ono. More erotic pieces were acquired from the "Bag One Collection (1964)," which Lennon gave to Ono as a present after their 1969 marriage and "Bed In" honeymoon. Another drawing, Apple Pie Bed, relates in spontaneous, fluid lines the impassioned wit Lennon applied to his second marriage, while other pieces in this exhibit, such as Peace and Love, portray Lennon's political beliefs.

This evocative artwork presents a unique opportunity to glimpse a side of Lennon that in the 1960s and '70s was largely obscured by the enormous cultural impact of his music and the Beatles phenomena. When it comes to the intimate places and experiences expressed throughout the "Coming Together" exhibition, perhaps Lennon's own lyrics describe them best: "In my life, I've loved them all."

For more information regarding the exhibit, or tickets to the special sneak preview and party on Aug. 15 (admission fee: $50), visit www.wchsm.org or call (866) 468-3401.