If you’re heading into town for Beatles Day on 10th July stop off at The Beat Goes On to see its fantastic array of Beatles memorabilia - but don’t neglect the Walker Art Gallery. The Walker may not stand out as major landmark on the Beatles trail but it is actually a rather interesting (and not insignificant) footnote in the Beatles' story.
When Paul McCartney’s exhibition of paintings at the Walker was planned, he recalled how he and John would spend 'many a pleasant afternoon’ in the gallery. It’s difficult to get your head round - the young two mates swaggering through the galleries, fooling about, mulling over the paintings. Boy, would I have loved to have been a fly on the wall, listening to what they said about the pictures - I have a suspicion they may have had a few things to say about the nudes, for one!
In fairness to John it makes perfect sense that they spent time in the Walker. Art was a recurring theme that ran throughout his life and here was this highly-acclaimed gallery right on the doorstep. John was at art school after all and he had a talent for sketching that he later shared in his books, 'In His Own Write' and 'A Spaniard In the Works'.
Another major artistic link in the chain was of course Stuart Sutcliffe. Stuart was John’s best friend and they were at college together. Such was Stu’s talent that he exhibited a painting at the Walker in 1959 and artworks by Stu remain in the gallery's collection. The way history tells it, Stu used the money from the sale of his painting to buy a guitar. When he set off to Hamburg with the band he met photographer Astrid Kirchherr and her boyfriend Klauss Voorman. The couple had a big influence on the style of the boys giving them their trademark ‘mop tops’ (and coincidentally Klauss went on to design the Revolver album cover). Stu and Astrid became an item and the young artist swiftly returned to his true calling of painting. Sadly he died prematurely of a brain haemorrhage before he could fulfil his potenital. He is buried locally in Huyton.
Despite Stu’s passing, art continued to play a decisive role in John Lennon’s life. It was in an art gallery (the Indica) that John met Yoko Ono, herself a credible and well-established avant-garde artist. It’s clear that Yoko stimulated John creatively and intellectually. John had loved and admired Stu but he may well have felt inadequate in his shadow. Yoko on other hand gave him the confidence to take himself seriously in artistic terms and validated his ideas outside the field of music. I sometimes wonder if it the loss of Stu that later propelled John into such an all-consuming and intense relationship with an artist. All I can say for sure is that art had a pivotal role to play in the lives of John, Stu and even Paul – and I’d like to think that the Walker played some small part in that.
Note: You can see the pictured Beatle suit as well as other garments and memorabilia in The Beat Goes On exhibition atWorld Museum until 1 November 2009.The photograph shows the suit in the Walker's Craft & Design gallery in a previous display.