September 7, 2005

Imagine All The Licensing: John Lennon Baby

john_lennon_blanket.jpgIn 1999, Yoko Ono oversaw the publication of Real Love: The Drawings for Sean, a book of sketches of animals that John Lennon made while playing with a then-3&4-year-old Sean. The images were colorized, and have since been exhibited and issued as fine art prints, collaborative pieces authorized and signed by Ono.

At an exhibition of Lennon's art in 2000 at an Omni Hotel in Austin, TX, Ono was asked if she was merchandising John Lennon too aggressively:

Well, I don't think I'm merchandising John aggressively at all. And if John's stuff is not out there, people forget about him. It's as simple as that. Or in the case of John because John is so popular, if I didn't do it, then some people would do it and make some kind of cheap version of it or something like that. And it would really destroy John's work. And so I have to protect his work. And this is the only way I can do it.
And so the images have been adapted, repurposed, and licensed for use on various baby products, including wallpaper and nursery decorations. [Amazon has some John Lennon rugs, for example, for $135. Imagine. And babycenter has blankets and sheets and stuff.]

Still, all these soft fabric products are impermanent; they wear out and get tossed, and Lennon's still at risk of being forgotten. Ono still needed something more permanent, a product that would last hundreds of years, keeping Lennon's memory alive for untold generations to come. Which is how Lennon's artwork came to be printed on White Cloud disposable diapers, available exclusively [sic] at Wal-Mart.

Lennon memorabilia collectors have now priced up Real Love: The Drawings for Sean to $40-100.


I always wondered about the John Lennon stuff on the Wal-Mart diapers. I didn't think that Wal-Mart would really be the type of place Ono would be comfortable hocking her wares. I didn't like the diapers, so we switched to huggies and pampers.

white clouds are perfect for our skinny baby and budget. I'd love it if there was no decor on them, but little animals (call it "art" if you really want to) are way better than elmo, etc.

I like some of the John Lennon stuff (for example, the mobile is pretty cute, and we have the John Lennon border in our daughter's room), but I warned my wife we should get the entire room done in JL stuff, because, ugh, it would be overkill.

The diapers, to me, seem a little bit like overkill.

As for the Real Love book, I picked up a copy a couple years ago at a touring exhibit of John's drawings. Pretty sure I paid about $10 for it...

I'd much rather put the kid in one of Ono's Fluxus pieces.

LOL... thanks, Greg! See, it soooo bugs me that she claims to be protecting his work. IMO, putting the animal print and the lyrics to Imagine (not *my* favorite, but arguably one of his best-loved songs) on diapers to get crapped on is a passive-aggressive form of professional jealousy; she was an artist before he was, wasn't she? Why does everyone always want to talk to her about JOHN??? WhatEVERRR, dude. (We've used the diapers and Consumer Reports is right, they're a value product that worked well for us; I was stunned when I saw what was printed on them, tho)

When I first saw the "Real Love" bedding at Babies R Us, I loved it because the animals looked like the groovy doodled stuff my cartoonist dad would draw for me when I was little. After I looked at all the products available and got some home, I discovered Yoko's name on the trademark and just about fell over. As far as I'm concerned, she IS "merchandising John aggressively" and SHE's profiting from it, twice... first by getting the licensing fees and then by keeping her name recognition going without paying for actual advertising. I have a serious problem with a person having their name on the trademark for another person's artwork, and I don't care if it's the widow/er. At least let Sean get his name on this collection, since the drawings were made for him. Let HIM be the one to sign & profit from the sale of the fine art prints and all the other products that were the result of his father's relationship with him.

BTW, this has nothing to do with who "broke up" the Beatles or any of that silly stuff... this is purely about how the legacy of an artist is handled, be he Lennon, Escher or a current up-and-coming unknown.

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