CEILING PAINTING 1966
by Yoko Ono
Climb up a ladder. Look at the painting on the ceiling with a magnifying glass, and find the word ‘YES’
The interactive object known as Ceiling Painting was an important work shown at Ono's historic 1966 Indica Gallery show in London. The viewer is invited to climb a white ladder, where, at the top, a magnifying glass, attached by a chain, hangs from a frame on the ceiling. The viewer uses the reading glass to discover a block letter "instruction" beneath the framed sheet of glass-it says "YES." It was through this work that Ono met her future husband and longtime collaborator, John Lennon.
Q: How did you meet Yoko?
John Lennon: There was a sort of underground clique in London; John Dunbar, who was married to Marianne Faithfull, had an art gallery in London called Indica, and I'd been going around to galleries a bit on me off days in between records, also to a few exhibitions in different galleries that showed sort of unknown artists or underground artists.
I got the word that this amazing woman was putting on a show the next week, something about people in bags, in black bags, and it was going to be a bit of a happening and all that. So I went to a preview the night before it opened. I went in - she didn't know who I was or anything - and I was wandering around. There were a couple of artsy-type students who had been helping, lying around there in the gallery, and I was looking at it and was astounded. There was an apple on sale there for two hundred quid; I thought it was fantastic - I got the humor in her work immediately. I didn't have to have much knowledge about avant-garde or underground art, the humor got me straightaway. It was two hundred quid to watch the fresh apple decompose.
But it was another piece that really decided me for or against the artist: a ladder that led to a painting, which was hung on the ceiling. It looked like a white canvas with a chain with a spyglass hanging on the end of it. I climbed the ladder, looked through the spyglass, and in tiny little letters it said, YES.
So it was positive. I felt relieved. It's a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn't say NO or FUCK YOU or something.
I was very impressed. John Dunbar introduced us - neither of us knew who the hell each other was. She didn't know who I was; she'd only heard of Ringo; I think it means apple in Japanese. And Dunbar had sort of been hustling her, saying, "That's a good patron; you must go and talk to him or do something." Dunbar insisted she say hello to the millionaire - you know what I mean. And she came up and handed me a card that said BREATHE on it - one of her instructions - so I just went [pants]. This was our meeting.
The second time I met her was at a gallery opening of Claes Oldenburg in London. We were very shy; we sort of nodded at each other - she was standing behind me. I sort of looked away because I'm very shy with people, especially chicks. We just sort of smiled and stood frozen together in this cocktail-party thing.
The next thing was, she came to me to get some backing - like all the bastard underground do - for a show she was going. She gave me her Grapefruit book. I used to read it, and sometimes I'd get very annoyed by it; it would say thing like "paint until you drop dead" or "bleed." Then sometimes I'd be very enlightened by it. I went through all the changes that people go through with her work - sometimes I'd have it by the bed and I'd open it and it would say something nice and it would be all right, and then it would say something heavy and I wouldn't like it.
So I gave her the money to back her show. For this whole thing, everything was in half: There was half a bed, half a room, half of everything, all beautifully cut in half and all painted white. And I said to her, "Why don't you sell the other half in bottles?" having caught on by then to what the game was. And she did that - this is still before we'd had any nuptials - and we still have the bottles from the show; it's my first. It was presented as "Yoko Plus Me" - that was our first public appearance. I didn't even go to see the show; I was too uptight.
Q: When did you realize that you were in love with her?
JL: It was beginning to happen; I would start looking at her book, but I wasn't quite aware what was happening to me. Then she did a thing called Dance Event, where different cards kept coming through the door every day saying BREATHE and DANCE and WATCH ALL THE LIGHTS UNTIL DAWN, and they upset me or made me happy, depending.
I'd get very upset about it being intellectual or all fucking avant-garde, then I'd like it, and then I wouldn't. Then I went to India with the Maharoonie and we corresponded. The letters were still formal, but they just had a little side to them. I nearly took her to India, but I still wasn't sure for what reason; I was still sort of kidding myself, with sort of artistic reasons and all that.
When we got back from India, we were talking to each other on the phone. I called her over; it was the middle of the night and Cynthia [Lennon's first wife] was away, and I thought, well, now's the time if I'm gonna get to know her any more. She came to the house and I didn't know what to do, so we went upstairs to my studio and I played her all the tapes that I'd made, all this far-out stuff, some comedy stuff, and some electronic music. She was suitably impressed, and then she said, "Well, let's make one ourselves." So we made Two Virgins. It was midnight when we started; it was dawn when we finished, and then we made love at dawn. It was very beautiful.
From 'Lennon Remembers'
(Jann Wenner editor of Rolling Stone magazine interviewing John Lennon in December 1970)