As a storyteller, one of the things I’ve painted a lot of images of my life with Andrew from my own photos, inspired by how John and Yoko allegorized their own lives by making music in the first-person persona about themselves, loves, and concerns. I think The Beatles were very postmodern because they always spoke through allegory, kind of like what we were talking about with storytelling. It wasn’t them who was lonely, it’s Eleanor Rigby, until John Lennon broke out.
I think that’s what Yoko taught him. By making great music about their own lives, the personal is political and they were able to talk about their own worlds in a way that accessible, relatable, and inspirational to all… They could sing about their own life with such meaning that you politically think that it transcends.
These are also New York-themed paintings, this and the Dylan work in the show, from the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan—about these great artists and the women in their life in NYC. Obviously, both things happened because they met up with these powerful, amazing women. But also, they showed up in New York. For John, coming to New York, meeting Yoko, who was obviously a tremendous artist in her own right, and businesswoman, and incredible performer.
I saw her in Central Park perform once. It was so amazing to see this woman who—at that point in time, she must have been in her early ‘70s—but she was doing her screaming and yodeling. And I’m like, “Oh my god this is a multimillionaire or billionaire businessperson, who’s also an incredible artist, who’s also a well-known public figure worldwide, etcetera, who’s doing this avant-garde art, that’s screaming.” I think that she really taught John Lennon how to be an artist.
I remember I was on the swim class in high school, my freshman year, and I was on the bleachers, I remember, the moment I heard that John Lennon died. Even as, whatever I am, twelve years old, thirteen years old—it totally hit me like a ton of bricks. Anyway, I love him, and I love her.
To me, they and the Beatles are the pinnacle of art, in that way. You can be an avant-garde artist or an unknown artist and make incredible art, and maybe very few people understand it, but it’s still incredible quality and changes things. And you can be a super popular artist who makes cheesy art that nobody cares about, and it’s only good for its time. But The Beatles had everything, in that they were super popular—couldn’t be more popular—globally helped to cultivate a movement, or capitalize in a positive way on a movement, and then always challenged themselves, never selling out. And musically, being really challenging, but at the same time super accessible. They had their cake and ate it too. They were super popular without compromise.
To me, it’s like the best of what a popular artist could hope to be. Yoko and John never sold out. And they’re still a work together, like the Wedding Album that was so visionary and beautiful… My parrots loved the wedding album. Because it has all these natural sounds. They sang along to the music—or they cackled along with it—the experimental albums, the Wedding Album, and the other first one that was totally experimental, Two Virgins. The parrots were going crazy! They loved it! I’m like, “Oh my god, this is still totally avant-garde and really good!” And then of course the Plastic Ono Band, the primal scream therapy album where he’s just singing about himself and it’s so intense, and Yoko. It resonates, not just his biography, but allegory. You get it for the music, but it totally still resonates politically.
Although Imagine is transcendent, the Plastic Ono Band is sublime. I find that that album is simultaneously almost impossible to listen to, but incredibly cathartic and incredibly moving, and so raw, and so direct, and so personal. I can only hope to paint in the same way that they create. You can have total empathy and relate, but also have compassion for them as living beings. It is a push-pull. I think that’s very Manet of them. In their work together and his solo work, it’s like the personal is political, their making it happen. And doing it in a musically adept way that makes you feel something. As well as his voice, too.
The Bed In for Piece is perhaps the best performance art happenings in the 20th Century. It is still discussed in popular culture, with its fundamental meanings intact as a discourse of how love can save the planet—simultaneously it gave us the populist song “All We Are Saying is Give Peace a Chance”, still song at rallies around the world. And when I hear Imagine, especially around Christmas time, how wonderfully subversive it is to hear an anti-religious song espousing Jesus’s ideals, to a world that can absorb that contradiction and understand—and be inspired with loving compassion. John and Yoko are giants–and human beings—as an interracial art couple, my husband Andrew—who is Latino and Native American—are also in love with them as people and as a couple!