Apple's 'Magic Alex' sends John Lennon's acid artwork to auction

Anthony Barnes discovers a little-known friendship and an extraordinary collection of unseen Beatles artefacts
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The Independent Online

A vivid, multicoloured doodle created by John Lennon while tripping on LSD, and which he later gave to one of his closest friends, is part of an extraordinary collection of Beatles artefacts which could sell for up to £200,000 this week.

The sketch, done in felt-tip pens on headed notepaper from the Hotel Continental in Paris, has remained unseen in the private collection of Alexis Mardas, an intriguing figure in the Beatles story, known to his circle as Magic Alex.

Mardas, an electronics wizard who headed the tech arm of the Beatles' record company Apple, was Lennon's confidant in the latter half of the band's career. Lennon once referred to him as his "guru" and acted as best man at his wedding in 1968.

He is selling 15 of his Beatles items on Wednesday at Christie's auction house. They include a custom-made Vox Kensington guitar formerly owned by both Lennon and George Harrison, estimated to fetch up to £120,000.

The psychedelic sketch of bold interlocking figures and faces, called "Strong" and dating from 1967, is one of two Lennon artworks in the sale. The other, known as "Happy Fish", is a pen-and-ink drawing executed two years later as Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono holidayed with Mardas on the Greek island of Hydra.

Christie's head of popular entertainment, Sarah Hodgson, said: "'Strong' is in a very strong style and colouring that he didn't do normally. He is best known for his black ink line drawings. Collectors are very interested. Our estimate of £4,000 to £6,000 seems conservative and I wouldn't be surprised if it went for something like £15,000.

Mardas, who plans to give the money to a charity in Greece, came to Britain as a 21-year-old student. Heworked as a telephone repair man, but went on to exhibit his kinetic light sculptures at the Indica Gallery in London - one of which was bought by the Rolling Stones and used by the band on stage. Guitarist Brian Jones introduced him to Lennon, who became fascinated by his gadgets.

He was installed at Apple, which was famously a financial disaster for the band, and when a US businessman was brought in to sort out their affairs in 1969, Apple Electronics was closed and Mardas largely disappeared from the Beatles world.

The Beatles biographer Peter Doggett, a consultant to the sale who travelled to Greece to meet Mardas, said: "I think he has been made a scapegoat for the troubled final years. He came up with ideas, but because of the chaotic situation at Apple there was no one able to market them. He was certainly a very important figure in John's life. He was his closest friend outside The Beatles in the years 1966-69, a period of incredible change in John's life."