Ray pieces

Yoko Ono in Half-A-Room, Lisson Gallery, London, 1967
Photo by Clay Perry
© Yoko Ono

She says she is a witch. The world thinks she is, indeed, but the only sure thing is Yoko is an ocean child so that’s the way she was called when she was born in 1933 in Tokyo. At least that’s the meaning of Yoko in its Kanji translation and so called her John Lennon in his song Julia featured in The Beatles’ White album released in 1968. Her father was Eisuke Ono, a classical pianist in his youngest days who became a very important banker in Japan. He was the son of Zenjiro Yasuda from the samurai Yasuda clan and founder of the Yasuda zaibatsu, one of the four major financial conglomerates of Imperial Japan, dissolved at the end of the war in 1945. So we have another fact: Yoko comes from a long line of samurai warriors and we must admit she’s a very good example of a warrior spirit. Thanks to her father’s job she travelled soon to America having an early experience of the life in San Francisco and New York. The war years were difficult times for her family which had returned to Japan but once the war was over she started studies in music and philosophy in Tokyo, although she left the university after a few months. Her family had gone back to New York and she joined them after leaving the university. There she joined the Sarah Lawrence College, a private and independent liberal arts college and she started to meet artists like La MonteYoung, the American avant-garde artist, composer and experimental musician originator of the drone music, and John Cage, pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments. They both were her mentors in the early days of Ono’s artistic career.

She’s been married three times: in 1956 with the avant-garde musician Toshi Ichiyanagi, in 1963 with film producer Anthony Cox, and finally with John Lennon in 1969 which story is vastly known. Now, at 80, she assures she’s starting a new life and presents a wide retrospective at Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a very good chance to discover her artistic career beyond The Beatles myth shadow because Yoko Ono has been an explorer of conceptual and performance art since the late fifties collaborating with the Fluxus Group and her first important works like Painting to Be Stepped On in 1961 and Cut Piece and the book Grapefruit, including surreal instructions to be completed by the reader, in 1964. Then she started a prolific career in experimental film with titles like No 4 (1966), also known as Bottoms, Rape (1968) and the latest Onochord (2004).

But she’s mainly popular because of her relationship with the former Beatle John Lennon and their music collaboration in the seventies, although her solo music career is deeply interesting itself as well as very irregular too. Beatles’ fans normally would prefer to erase her songs from the album Double Fantasy released in 1980 just before Lennon’s murder which features songs written by Lennon and songs written by Ono edited as a dialogue between them.  But when one listens to the album it’s obvious Ono was more connected to the current times in music scene than Lennon. Maybe his songs were better but their structure was classical pop, closer to his Beatle times, and the sound too over-produced. On the other hand, Ono’s songs had a sound closer to bands like B-52’s and The Talking Heads. After Lennon’s death, she has released some very good albums and incredible collaborations like Hiroshima Sky (Is Always Blue), an experimental track recorded with Paul McCartney in the early nineties and still unreleased. Her recent Take Me to the Land of Hell (2013) recorded along with her son Sean Lennon and Yuka Honda, Nels Cline, and Cornelius' Keigo Oyamada, which features magnificent songs Moonbeans, Cheshire Cat cry and N.Y. Noodle Town is one more proof of her magnificent and strong talent.

Yoko Ono | Half a wind-show. A Retrospective at Bilbao Guggenheim Museum

A selection of images by a click here

Text by Juan Carlos Romero
Photo by Clay Perry. © Yoko Ono
Courtesy of Museo Guggenheim de Bilbao
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