Bob Dylan art: Face Value portrait “contemptible” – Brian Sewell, top English critic

ROCK ART EDITIONS published an earlier version of this post in October 2014. It’s republished here to commemorate Brian Sewell, art critic of the London Evening Standard. He’s the best-known English critic, particularly among those who share his rejection of much contemporary art. Brian Sewell died last weekend, aged 84.

Bob Dylan art gets the thumbs down: his Skip Sharpe portrait is “Contemptible.  Just rubbish”.  It should not have been exhibited by the National Portrait Gallery, according to top critic Brian Sewell, in his Pop Goes The Easel, a scathing survey of rock musicians who paint.

Q magazine published Sewell’s damning piece in November 2013, to coincide with the Bob Dylan Face Value show at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Bob Dylan art: Face Value

Skip Sharpe by Bob Dylan, Face Value exhibition 2013. © Bob Dylan 2013

Bob Dylan art “just rubbish”, Macca paintings “childish rubbish”

The critic goes on to lambast other rock-musicians-turned-painters. He dismisses artwork by Beatles bassist Paul McCartney as “childish rubbish”. Edwyn Collins’ artwork shows promise… when judged as the work of a 14-year old! Daniel Johnston’s Captain America is “… just awful.  Utter, utter rubbish”.

Funny, that.  I enjoyed the Bob Dylan art in the Face Value exhibition, a small gallery of distinctive portraits, held in 2013. The portraits are representative Bob Dylan art – they successfully capture Dylan’s penetrating, sceptical, questioning worldview. My only criticism was that the show didn’t have enough pictures.

Bob Dylan art: judge for yourself – catalogue still available

You can judge for yourself the Bob Dylan art dismissed by Sewell. Bob Dylan Face Value, a handsome, collectable catalogue, published by the National Portrait Gallery, London, is still widely available.

Bob Dylan art: Face Value catalogue

Bob Dylan Face Value catalogue © National Portrait Gallery 2013

I was also impressed by Paul McCartney: Paintings, the 1999 and 2000 catalogues of the Beatle’s artwork: I’m not keen on Macca’s music, but I do like his painting.

Brian Sewell is a celebrated London-based art critic known for his lively journalism and entertaining TV appearances. He tends not to, er, sit on the fence.

The dismissive tone in his Q article was echoed in the recent assessment of some rocker-painters by Guardian critic Jonathan Jones, covered here last week. (Bob Dylan got off lightly.)

I’m collecting critical commentaries – positive and negative – on Bob Dylan art and work by other rock musicians who paint, to discuss on ROCK | ART | EDITIONS.  If you come across any critiques, please Leave a reply, at the top of this article.  Thanks, in advance.


Copyright: images © Bob Dylan and © National Portrait Gallery, London, as indicated in captions.  Brian Sewell quotations © Q magazine.  Text © Gerald Smith, ROCK ART EDITIONS 2015.  Unauthorised reproduction prohibited. 

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