“A lot of things have been thrown at me in life and I’ve got through it all without a rule book, taking one day at a time,” says Japanese conceptual artist, musician and peace activist YOKO ONO. Always a controversial figure, especially while married to Beatle John Lennon, the thrice-married mother of two is from a cultured banking family. Now 88, she looks decades younger. Her latest installation “Mend Piece”, at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, based on the Japanese art of kintsugi, invites participants to mend broken pottery while thinking of mending the world at the same time …
LIVE UP to John Lennon’s description of her as the “world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.”
SAY she can’t live without art; she was part of New York’s avant garde art scene and Fluxus movement founded by George Maciunas. “Art is like breathing for me. If I don’t do it, I start to choke.”
HAVE her own inimitable style: a derby hat and a leather biker jacket. She was profiled in Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld’s book The Little Black Jacket: Chanel’s Classic Revisited.
OPPOSE the release of Mark Dean Chapman who shot Lennon outside his New York apartment in 1980. Last year, Chapman was denied parole for the eleventh time.
LOVE dancing: “When I hear music my body just starts to move. It has nothing to do with training … that’s just me.”
TWEET eccentric pieces of advice such as “Polish an orange” or “Carry a bag of peas wherever you go”.
EMBRACE her singledom. She was married three times, to Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, to Anthony Cox, an American jazz musician, and to John Lennon. “I was always with somebody. Now this is the first time I’m alone and it’s very good.”
INSPIRE a range of artists, from the B-52s to Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.
BELIEVE “It’s better to be criticised than complimented as a person.”
SHOP voraciously; on one spree she spent $400,000 at Bergdorf Goodman on 70 fur coats for herself and Lennon.
PUSH BOUNDARIES “I think that is what artists do. What else can they do, repeat themselves? I don’t believe in repeating because, well, that’s been done and it’s been there and so you don’t have to do it again.”
COMPARE herself to Marie Curie.“Like Madame Curie, I write down my discoveries for people to see in 20, 100, years later.”
HAVE a beauty secret, “I don’t drink too much water. I don’t eat very well. Sometimes I cheat and grab some chocolate.”
BELIEVE her parents accepted her life choices. “I think they would have loved it if I had become a classical musician and composer. Neither of them came to my shows.”
RESEMBLE the cold, distant image of her in the media. Paul McCartney admitted: “I thought she was a cold woman. I think that’s wrong … she’s just the opposite … I think she’s just more determined than most people to be herself.”
USE DRUGS “I hate marijuana – but in a social situation with people passing it round you just have to pretend.”
BELIEVE in institutional politics: “I feel sorry for politicians. To get the vote they have to do all sorts of things.”
DENY that growing up in Tokyo during the bombing in 1945 had an impact on her character, especially her “aggressive” attitude.
RELATE to her siblings: “My brother and my sister were both very different to me, I’m the Robinson Crusoe, alone on the island I was born on.”
FLAUNT her success: she has won two Grammy awards: one as an artist and producer, the other as a video producer.
SLOW DOWN Ono made music history in 2011, becoming, at 78, the oldest artist ever to have a number one hit, “Move on Fast”, in the dance charts.
WORRY about the future: “Don’t be concerned that you might not be as energetic as you were. You become much more energetic because you’ve accumulated wisdom and experience and love.”
DENY the 23-year rift with her daughter Kyoko Khan Cox who joined Californian cult The Walk. The two reunited in 1995.
TAKE herself too seriously. Her fashion collaboration in 2012 with Opening Ceremony, featuring sheer fabrics and handprints, was designed “for people with a sense of humour”.