Lennon's Psychedelic Sketches FoundLennon Psychedelic Sketches Found
Psychedelic Images From the Mind of John Lennon

by Catherine Milner and Mark Inglefield

A sketchbook of John Lennon’s disturbing
psychedelic drawings from 1967 were recently
unearthed. Described as “drug-fuelled visions,”
they reveal in part the disorientation he was
experiencing during his years of serious
experimentation with mind-expanding drugs.

A collection of John Lennon sketches depicting the singer’s drug-fuelled vision of an island escape from Beatlemania, has come to light at the home of the man who introduced him to Yoko Ono.

John Dunbar, ex-husband of singer Marianne Faithfull, has discovered the drawings inside a jotter he took on a trip to Ireland with Lennon. It is estimated that they could fetch more than £100,000 at auction. “I can’t believe it - most of John’s drawings are frightful,“ said Mr. Dunbar.

The journey of Lennon and Dunbar to Ireland typified the surreal adventures of the Beatles and the rock aristocracy in the late Sixties. Mr. Dunbar recalls that Lennon had spotted a newspaper advertisement for “an island off Ireland“ being sold for £1,000. While attending one of the decade’s notorious psychedelic “happenings,“ the “24 Hour Technicolour Dream” party at Alexandra Palace, north London, Lennon determined to buy it. “It was something to do“ explained Mr. Dunbar.

They flew to Dublin the following morning, from where they travelled across Ireland in a black limousine to Clew Bay on the west coast. There they hired a boat to Dornish Beg - the tiny hummock sticking out of the Atlantic that had caught Lennon’s fancy.

But the journey was warped by copious consumption of LSD, and the increasingly chaotic nature of the drawings chart the singer’s mental disintegration. The men had started taking the drug at the Technicolour Dream party, said Dunbar, and continued without a break for four or five days.

“I had taken it first as early as 1963 - whereas John had only recently started, so I think he was probably more affected by it. The island was more like a couple of small hills joined by a gravelly bar with a cottage on it,“ said Dunbar. “When we got there, John sat down and started drawing.“

Apart from one Dante-esque drawing covering two pages which features hollowed eyes, ghoulish faces and fat nude females in an incoherent scrawl of lines and squiggles, Lennon drew up architectural plans of a large octagonal tower or lighthouse on the island in which he wanted to live.

“It was a beautiful spot,“ says Mr. Dunbar. But Lennon never went to live on the island because of his relationship with Yoko Ono. Lennon later gave the island away to a stranger who turned up with his family at Apple, the Beatles’ self-founded record company, at a time when the group’s hippie ideals made them the target of fleecers. The musicians haemhorraged so much money that Lennon was soon to announce that he was “down to my last £40,000.“

The drawings belong to the most controversial period of Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting. A few months after Lennon’s visit to the island the group released Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds - the source of speculation, because of the title’s initials, that it was inspired by LSD. Lennon always insisted that it was prompted by a drawing done by his son, Julian, but the influence of drugs was undeniable.

The recording of A Day In The Life - whose drug references were brazen - was turned into a psychedelic “happening“ by the group and their friends. However, Lennon was forced into giving up LSD by the “thousands“ of bad trips he experienced. He was later privately to admit that he was lucky to have regained his mental equilibrium afterwards. Many of his friends never did.

His drawings - and the whole Irish escapade - capture the singer’s desperation to escape the pressures of fame. In another typical episode, the whole group planned to decamp to live together in Greece.

A London art dealer in the Sixties, Dunbar introduced Lennon to Yoko Ono when she was showing at his gallery. “He lost interest when Yoko appeared on the scene. They eventually moved to the U.S.“

Carey Wallace, Beatles expert at Christies, said: “Anything that gives an insight into Lennon’s mind is highly sought-after and Beatles’ memorabilia is very strong at the moment.“

Copyright © 2001-2002 Catherine Milner and Mark Inglefield