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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lennon's Art Returns to England




LIVERPOOL, England -- Thirty years ago police raided a London art gallery and confiscated John Lennon's erotic lithographs of his wife, Yoko Ono.


The collection has now returned, this time to a Liverpool art gallery where signed, limited edition prints of the once-shocking originals now sell for up to pounds 5,000 ($7,997).


The recently opened Matthew Street Gallery, which sits just yards from the Cavern Club where the Beatles' rise to fame began, is one of two galleries in the world that is devoted to Lennon's artwork. The other is in California.


"The collection is like a visual diary of John and Yoko's life," said gallery manager Christine Colvin of the 73 prints on display. "How fitting that the collection should come back to Lennon's birthplace."


Lennon, who studied at the Liverpool Art School from 1957 to 1960, was interested primarily in drawing and favored the creative loose sketch, working in pen and ink.


"It's all very well regarded," said Colin Fallows, a reader in audio and visual arts at the Liverpool Art School. "He has a fascinating use of line and a very quick, fresh drawing style."


As a wedding gift to Ono in 1969, John drew the "Bag One Portfolio," a chronicle of their wedding ceremony, honeymoon and plea for world peace in the famous Amsterdam Bed-in.


Many of the pieces feature a nude Ono in erotic poses.


The Bag One series was first published and exhibited in January 1970 at the London Art Gallery. On the second day, the exhibition was closed and the lithographs - which police deemed pornographic - were confiscated.


After Lennon's death, Ono decided to share her husband's art with the public, publishing four more collections.


The drawings are whimsical yet poetic, and show an almost obsessive love that Lennon had for his Japanese wife.


"It shows how close they were. John had a habit of drawing the two of them as one," Colvin said.


Indeed, in "Bag One," which shows John and Yoko locked in a Yin-Yang embrace, it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.


"This image symbolizes the unity of man and woman, solidified in their movement ... John and Yoko as one," Ono wrote of the piece.


Lennon signed all the 300 Bag One Portfolio prints. Two are on display at the Matthew Street Gallery, each with a pounds 5,000 price tag.


The other collections, issued posthumously, are signed by Ono and embossed with a "chop mark," a red stamp of characters that Eastern artists sometimes use in place of a signature.


Lennon designed the chop mark himself before his 1980 murder. The symbols translate as: "Like a cloud, beautiful sound."


Ono continues the collaboration she had with her husband when he was alive. She has added dabs of color to some prints, including the gallery's most popular piece, "Sleepless Night.


In it, Lennon is composing in bed with sheets of paper strewn about in the Dakota, a New York City apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side.