Bob Dylan art, released in ten series since 2007, is now a substantial body of work. Bob Dylan has recently been as busy producing visual art as he was recording albums in his mid-1960s heyday.
As his music output has diminished, Dylan has developed his visual art with trademark vigour – exactly what you’d expect from a creative artist with the energy levels and work ethic needed to undertake the Never Ending Tour.
Bob Dylan’s art is ambitious. It covers a variety of subject matter. And Dylan the artist is willing to tackle a wide range of different media.
Bob Dylan art is officially endorsed, with exhibitions of different work staged in four prestigious European public museums, in Germany, Denmark, Italy and England. Works for sale have been shown by two major commercial galleries, Gagosian in New York and Halcyon in London, as well as many smaller venues. The art world has embraced Bob Dylan.
The best-known Bob Dylan art is The Drawn Blank Series, which has seen several releases since 2007. Its signed, limited edition prints now adorn the walls of many thousands of collectors and investors.
New Bob Dylan art has come thick and fast since 2010, with the release of nine other series: Bob Dylan On Canvas, The Brazil Series, The Asia Series, Revisionist Art – Thirty Works, The Revisionist Art Series, Mood Swings (including Iron Works and Gangster Doors), The New Orleans Series and Face Value.
Here’s an introduction to this impressive array of Bob Dylan art.
Bob Dylan Art #1: The Drawn Blank Series
Bob Dylan art was launched with The Drawn Blank Series exhibition at Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Germany, in 2007. It was a collection of watercolours developed from the pencil sketches of Drawn Blank, his 1994 book.
Bob Dylan went on to create (and sign) limited edition prints of The Drawn Blank Series for publisher Washington Green, in a series of releases between 2008 and 2014. The graphics went on sale through Halcyon Gallery, London and the Castle Galleries chain, plus some independent UK art retailers and several US galleries.
ROCK ART EDITIONS recently reviewed the The Drawn Blank Series 2008-2014 retrospective exhibition and the most recent, 2014 releases. The Drawn Blank Series is easily the best-known and most widely distributed series of Bob Dylan art.
Bob Dylan Art #2: Bob Dylan On Canvas
Halcyon Gallery has also exhibited original canvases on several occasions, notably in Bob Dylan On Canvas in February 2010. It contained 12 works, acrylics on canvas, including Two Sisters (pictured, left), two different versions of Train Tracks and one of Woman in Red Lion Pub, popular images from the limited edition prints, and some of my favourites from that series.
In addition, in 2013, Halcyon Gallery introduced a hybrid mini-series, Side Tracks, a collection of 325 prints of Train Tracks hand-embellished individually by the artist to create another set of unique artworks. (Side Tracks could be counted as another – an eleventh – series of Bob Dylan art.)
Bob Dylan Art #3: The Brazil Series
For his follow-up to The Drawn Blank Series, Bob Dylan, never one to stand still, produced a very different looking collection, The Brazil Series.
The Brazil pictures are bolder, more sombre, more socially engaged, more concerned with groups of people.
Clearly conceived as a collection, The Brazil Series of paintings (acrylics on canvas) and drawings (pencil on paper) were exhibited at Museum for Kunst, Kopenhagen, National Gallery of Denmark, September 2010-February 2011. The catalogue has nearly 50 images – 80% were displayed in the Copenhagen exhibition.
Bob Dylan Art #4: The Asia Series
The Asia Series of 18 acrylic and oil paintings on canvas were shown at Gagosian Gallery, New York in September/October 2011. The pictures, like The Brazil Series clearly conceived as a collection, reveal Bob Dylan exploring another, even more exotic, culture. My favourite images from The Asia Series include Monk (pictured) and The Bridge.
The Asia Series, like Chronicles, his outstanding book (“non-autobiography”), drew accusations of plagiarism. I’m an agnostic on such matters: I like the work, but haven’t devoted enough time to feel comfortable pontificating on its derivation. Readers with the time and inclination to research the issue will find plenty of discussion online.
Bob Dylan Art #5: Revisionist Art – Thirty Works by Bob Dylan
Revisionist Art – Thirty Works by Bob Dylan was exhibited at the prestigious Gagosian Gallery, New York, November 2012-January 2013. It consists of 30 pieces, jokey reworkings of old American magazine covers, many featuring female body parts, prominently.
The artworks of Revisionist Art, silkscreen on canvas, are a bridge too far for me. Ignorant of most of the cultural references, I’d need to educate myself in twentieth century American popular culture to get the in-jokes.
Bob Dylan Art #6: The Revisionist Art Series
Adjoining the Mood Swings show at Halcyon Gallery, London in 2013 (see below), several additional silkscreen prints, including the spoof cover of Life magazine, pictured here, featuring Humphrey Bogart and Woody Allen, were presented as the Revisionist Art Series.
As with the Gagosian Revisionist collection, above: this is not really my bag. Normally averse to the “my five years old daughter could do that” school of art criticism, I’m sorely tempted, in this case, to join that tedious conservative tendency. I just don’t get it… though I’m open to persuasion.
Bob Dylan Art #7: The New Orleans Series
The New Orleans Series of paintings, exhibited at Palazzo Reale, Milan in February/March 2013 looks like an interesting small collection of oils on canvas, mainly figurative.
But visiting Milan in early 2013 was a trip too far for me. I’d jump at the chance to see it in London, and would even find an excuse to see it in Paris or Berlin.
There is no printed catalogue, as far as I’m aware, so The New Orleans Series remains the least-known collection of Bob Dylan art. A pity because it looks intriguing.
Bob Dylan Art #8: Mood Swings – Iron Works
I was impressed, if a little confused, by the scale of Bob Dylan Mood Swings, staged in November 2013 at Halcyon Gallery, London.
The exhibition catalogue covered the iron sculptures, which I found interesting, if unengaging. I could see the skill, but the art escaped me.
I was confused by the curation. The three contiguous mini-exhibitions at the Halcyon Gallery – Gangster Doors, Revisionist Art Series, and Side Tracks – competed for attention with Bob Dylan’s iron creations.
Bob Dylan Art #9: Mood Swings – Gangster Doors
Gangster Doors was a series of six distressed car doors inspired by the exploits of folkloric US criminals like Al Capone and John Dillinger.
Shown alongside Bob Dylan Mood Swings – Iron Works, staged in November 2013 at Halcyon Gallery, London, it seemed almost incidental.
I generally admire Bob Dylan art, especially the paintings and drawings, and I’m particularly fond of some of the Drawn Blank, Brazil, Asia and New Orleans pieces. But Mood Swings – Gangster Doors, like Mood Swings – Iron Works, as well as Revisionist Art, leave me cold. I suspect that they might be very collectable, but they fail to excite.
Bob Dylan Art #10: Face Value
Face Value, a set of 12 pastel on paper portraits, occupied a small room of the National Portrait Gallery, London from August 2013 to January 2014.
The National Portrait Gallery, located in the very heart of tourist London, must be one of the most accessible in the world. It carries the prestige of a well-funded national collection. And entry is free.
I popped in several times and enjoyed each viewing, admiring Bob Dylan’s skills as a portraitist: he endows his subjects with life, personality, individuality.
I’d guess that the accessibility of the gallery, complemented by a lengthy run and a fine, widely-available catalogue, made Face Value the most popular Bob Dylan art exhibition so far.
Bob Dylan art: likes and dislikes
Of all the Bob Dylan art exhibited to the end of 2014, I favour the paintings – whether in water colours, gouache or acrylic. Many are engaging, stimulating, pleasing. It’s typical of contrarian Bob Dylan that, rejecting the Zeitgeist of abstraction and conceptual art, he opted to start showing his art in the guise of a traditional figurative painter.
His signature neo-Expressionist style, with its echoes of early twentieth century German and French painting, marks him as a singular talent. I can visualise Bob Dylan images hanging alongside canvases by Ecole de Paris masters like Georges Rouault and Chaim Soutine at the school’s unofficial HQ, the magnificent Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, on the Right Bank of the Seine, just upstream of Trocadero.
My painterly prejudices prevent me, however, from embracing Bob Dylan art in other media. Iron Works and the Gangster Doors – the two series on show in the Mood Swings show in London – didn’t engage me at all. Neither did the Revisionist Art – Thirty Works by Bob Dylan. My tastes are probably more conventional, more conservative than I realised: maybe I need to widen my horizons.
Overall, the Bob Dylan art presented in most of these ten series, is impressive. It’s an eloquent riposte to the naysayers – hardcore Dylan followers included – who denigrate the work. Perhaps it’s time they looked again. Bob Dylan is now much more than a giant of twentieth century music. He has established his credentials as a multi-disciplinary creative artist.
These ten series of Bob Dylan art in just eight years reveal him to be a prolific visual artist. Who knows how much more we can expect?
What do you think of Bob Dylan art?
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