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Art exhibit links John & Yoko once again

“It’s a little bit controversial,” says Yoko Ono, certainly no stranger to that adjective.

She’s talking about her collaboration with John Lennon. The one that’s still going on.

Let’s pause for a moment to marvel at the 80-year-old Ono doing one-on-one phone interviews – even extending a promised 15 minutes to 25 – about a touring print exhibition that’s stopping in Charlotte for the fourth time.

It’s not as if she has nothing else to do: She just hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Play chart with the thumping “Hold Me,” she’s curating the renowned Meltdown festival in London in June (“with a lot of activism; that’s not been done before”), she’s got more than 4 million Twitter followers (her March tweet of John’s bloody glasses, with a plea for gun control, was retweeted more than 40,000 times, including by the Obama account), and she has a new multimedia-art book out called “Infinite Universe at Dawn.”

Oh, and she’s battling fracking in New York, with an art installation and appearances, even with Paul McCartney (who last year finally laid to rest that rumor about her breaking up the Beatles).

About the only thing that appears to have slowed down is her wearing heels. “They’re so high now! You have to go to the circus to learn how to wear them!”

So what’s a little bit controversial?

The prints, on exhibit Friday-Sunday at the Doubletree Suites at SouthPark.

Lennon, as diehard Beatles fans know, was a visual artist as well as musician, making loose, often funny line drawings of people, animals, landscapes. Since he was shot dead in 1980, Ono has promoted his art. This tour, which has spanned more than 20 years, presents prints of his line drawings, for which Ono designed the color additions.

The controversy? Twofold. One: Is it true to the title “The Artwork of John Lennon” if Ono added color to his work? (She hand-colors small versions called maquettes, then the printer interprets those choices into the printing process.) Two: If the prints were made after his death, as most were, can they be called his work at all?

No original drawings are in the exhibit, according to Rudy Siegel of Legacy Fine Art & Productions, which handles the tour – but a few prints (usually five to seven) come from a collection signed by Lennon in 1969 and 1970.

Lennon’s music plays during the exhibition, and there’s no admission – but a $2 donation at the door is suggested. Proceeds from that will go to Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. Prints will be for sale as well, priced at $200 to $25,000, and any sales money will be split between Legacy and Bag One Arts of the Lennon estate, said Siegel. The website notes that all reproductions are “clearly identified as posthumously created under the control and supervision of Yoko Ono Lennon.”

“John and I were such partners,” says Ono, her voice clear and steady. “Since he’s gone, I think he doesn’t mind. This is a way to do things with John’s work again. This is me and him, reminding me of the partnership.”

Was it hard to tweet the photo of his glasses?

“Look, I was there… It’s part of me now… But there are so many terrible things some people are doing now. We just have to make it well.”

Hunger is a cause she has supported in other cities, another piece of the peace she and Lennon sought together, and that she has been vocal about in the decades since. “The United States is such an incredibly beautiful country. So many high ideals. We can’t sink to (violence such as the Boston Marathon bombing).

“I am promoting John’s work – because it’s John’s, but (also) because his work really gives … a sense of humor, a brightness of life.

“When you go to his exhibit, you feel warmer, lighter.”

I imagine the number of times she has been asked the same questions, heard the same challenges, been called a little bit controversial. Does she mind?

“No. It is very good to repeat. Repetition is very important. That’s how we grow.”

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