John Lennon 1940-1980
In 1957 John Lennon entered the unconventional environment of the College of Art, admitted on the strength of his portfolio by the Head of the College himself. His manic energy and disruptive behaviour were to drive his tutors to distraction, but he was never disciplined or asked to leave, because he fitted right in with the bohemian atmosphere of the college.
His time at the college was to provide the springboard for many influential aspects in his life. He met Stuart Sutcliffe, who was to have a huge impact on his lifestyle, and with whom he formed The Beatles. He also met Paul McCartney, then a schoolboy at the neighbouring Liverpool Institute for Boys. McCartney, with George Harrison, would hop over the wall at lunchtime into the college canteen to perform with Lennon and Sutcliffe. Their regular lunchtime jams turned The Quarrymen, as they were known at the time, into the official college band and their subsequent first recordings were funded by the students' union.
While the bohemian aspect of the college encouraged Lennon in his creative output, his scholarly activities were less successful; Lennon is the college's most celebrated failure. Arthur Ballard, one of the most influential tutors of the time and a leading artist in his own right, found Lennon's ‘notebook full of caricatures of myself and the other tutors, the students - all done with descriptions and verse and it was the wittiest thing I'd ever seen in my life'. Yet measured against the standards demanded by the course, Lennon's early efforts fell short, and he failed his lettering exam.
“John Lennon demonstrated that as individuals and as artists we can challenge the status quo and in doing so change the world. There could be no better role model for our students.”
– Juan Cruz, Director of the School of Art 2012-2014
In 2009, Yoko Ono made a generous philanthropic gift in recognition of Lennon's connection with the university and LJMU's long-standing reputation for enabling disadvantaged students to benefit from higher education. Using this funding, LJMU established the John Lennon Imagine Awards to provide targeted financial and pastoral support for students who have been in local authority care or who are estranged from their parents.
A year later the university named the John Lennon Art and Design Building (which houses the current Liverpool School of Art and Design) in his honour. Yoko Ono gave permission for the building to be renamed in his memory, a fitting move as it was specifically designed to break down barriers between artists working in different disciplines to enable them to find a new voice, a new way of expressing themselves.