Tag Archives: Bob Dylan Writings & Drawings

Bob Dylan art: the early work

Bob Dylan art - Music from Big Pink by The Band - cover art by Bob Dylan 1968

Music from Big Pink, The Band – cover © Bob Dylan 1968

Bob Dylan art has a high profile these days.

It’s because Bob Dylan has been busy as a painter and sculptor. He’s been more active as a visual artist than a recording artist ever since 2007’s The Drawn Blank Series exhibition in Chemnitz.

Bob Dylan was painting and drawing long before his artwork was presented in The Drawn Blank Series and the subsequent release of many other, different collections – surveyed here on ROCK ART EDITIONS in January. He was producing art even before Drawn Blank (1994), the book of drawings which provided the raw material for the Chemnitz paintings.

Here’s an outline of early Bob Dylan art, before Drawn Blank.

Music from Big Pink – Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank #1

Bob Dylan art had its first public outing with the album cover for Music from Big Pink (July 1968), the debut album by The Band, written around the time of the Basement Tapes sessions.

Opinions differ on the quality of the painting on Music from Big Pink. Some regard it as a childish daub. Others see a witty, playful document of the substance-enhanced Basement Tapes sessions. Dylan’s introduction into the picture of a woolly mammoth – uncommon in upstate New York in the 1960s – adds a Surrealist touch to his otherwise naif style.

Sing Out! magazine cover – Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank #2

The cover of the Oct/Nov 1968 issue of Sing Out!, the folk music magazine, was the second widely circulated reproduction of a piece of Bob Dylan art.

Bob Dylan art - Sing Out! - cover art © Bob Dylan 1968

Sing Out! Oct-Nov 1968 – cover art © Bob Dylan 1968

It’s clearly from the same hand as the cover of Music from Big Pink.

Untitled (Sara) – Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank #3

The original paintings of the covers of Music from Big Pink and Sing Out! will be valuable. Who knows where they are hanging? (Reproductions abound, of course, in countless Baby Boomer vinyl/CD/magazine collections.)

Bob Dylan art - portrait of Sara Dylan, painting by Bob Dylan

Detail from Untitled (Sara), 1968, oil, by Bob Dylan

Some idea of the value of the originals of the two covers can be derived from the recent sale of Untitled (Sara), 1968, a portrait of Bob Dylan’s then wife. The framed oil on canvas was auctioned by Christie’s, London on 16 December 2014 with an estimated value of £50-70,000.

Self Portrait – Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank #4

The portrait of Sara, like the cover artwork for Music from Big Pink and Sing Out!, escaped the attention of most Bob Dylan fans at the time. But Dylan aficionados could hardly miss the self-portrait adorning the cover of the Self Portrait album (1970).

Most buyers of Self Portrait echoed the contemporary critical dismissal of the music on the album – “What is this sh*t?”. Those who gave any thought to the Bob Dylan art on the album sleeve were probably just as scathing about it as they were of the vinyl inside.

Bob Dylan art Self Portrait

Self Portrait © Bob Dylan 1970

Self Portrait is now regarded rather more favourably. I expect a similar reappraisal of the self-portrait on the cover – though the new self-portrait on Another Self Portrait (2013) is destined to be rather more popular.

Writings & Drawings – Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank #5

Buyers of Writings & Drawings (1973) focussed on the writings – lyrics, including many then-unreleased songs and Dylan prose/poetry taken from LP artwork – and virtually ignored the drawings. Fair enough – Bob Dylan’s USP is his peerless use of language, not his proficiency as a draughtsman.

Bob Dylan art - Writings & Drawings

Lay Lady Lay, one of fifteen sketches in Writings & Drawings © Bob Dylan 1972

Revisiting Writings & Drawings decades after first publication, I found its fifteen drawings rather more compelling, especially in the updated version, Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-1985, where all the drawings are placed alongside the songs they illustrate.

If you haven’t looked at these drawings for a while, I’d urge you spend ten minutes exploring them – if you know your Dylan, you’ll recognise the wit, the style and the worldview.

These drawings are probably under-appreciated. If I were Bob Dylan Inc., I’d be tempted to publish signed, limited edition prints of the fifteen pieces – they’re an unexploited revenue steam.

Album covers – Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank #6

Relatively little Bob Dylan art has been employed on his album covers – in sharp contrast to the discography of Joni Mitchell, Dylan’s nearest musician-artist peer.

Bob Dylan art - Planet Waves - cover art by Bob Dylan 1974

Planet Waves – cover art © Bob Dylan 1974

The cover of Planet Waves (1974) is a striking monochrome image in what would become Bob Dylan’s signature Expressionist style. The CD artwork for Infidels (1983) and Empire Burlesque (1985) also includes Dylan drawings. Anyone familiar with Drawn Blank will recognise them.

Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank: conclusions

Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank consists of a few rarely-seen high-value originals and many reproductions which are are widely available at low cost.

There’s probably a market gap here, just waiting to be filled. I’d wager that well-executed limited editions of pre-Drawn Blank images would attract Bob Dylan art collectors and investors.

Your views on Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank

If you’re aware of other Bob Dylan art before Drawn Blank that I’ve missed here, please let me know: I’ll be delving deeper in future posts on ROCK ART EDITIONS and will welcome your contribution.

I’m also very interested to know what you think of Bob Dylan art – before and after Drawn Blank. Is it another window into the soul of a creative polymath? A waste of time? A harmless diversion? Please share your views via the “Leave a reply” link at the top of this post.

Copyright: text © Gerald Smith, ROCK ART EDITIONS, 2015; images © Bob Dylan and publishers, dates as specified. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

New book of Bob Dylan lyrics: how the earlier collections compare

The new Bob Dylan lyrics book, Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962, was today – only hours after it went on sale – rising in value.

This morning, with amazon.com apparently out of stock, re-sellers were asking up to $500 for a copy of the book from the limited edition of 3,000, launched yesterday at $200.

One early buyer complained that the edition of 3,000 does not, as I speculated here last Saturday, have a slipcase – contrary to at least one of the promotional images.

The new Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962 is clearly desirable, but how does it compare with previous collections of Bob Dylan lyrics? Does it replace them or complement them? And how desirable are the earlier collections?

Bob Dylan lyrics: three previous collections

There have been three previous collections of Bob Dylan lyrics: Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings; Lyrics 1962-1985 by Bob Dylan; and Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001.

The Bob Dylan lyrics collections have a complex publishing history. There are many different versions of all three collections – different editions, different bindings (hardback and paperback), different printings within each, different covers and designs, and different publishers in different countries.

The examples from these collections, shown below, are books I’ve bought in London. There will probably have been different versions on sale where you live.

Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings

On publication in 1973, Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings was a revelation. The first generation of Dylan devotees revered it as a holy text.

Bob Dylan lyrics collection

Bob Dylan Writings & Drawings, 1974

The Bob Dylan drawings were largely ignored at the time. With hindsight, you can now see the emergence of the draughtsman who would later develop into the artist behind the Drawn Blank book and its lucrative offspring, the Drawn Blank Series of limited edition prints.

My copy of Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings (photograph) was first published by Granada in London in 1974, and was reprinted at least four times up to 1980.

It had been first published as a hardback in 1973, in the US by Alfred A Knopf, and in England by Jonathan Cape. The hardback version also seems to have been reprinted at least four times.

The paperback has little sale value: I replaced an original, battered copy with that in the photograph at the Oxfam second-hand bookshop in Oxford a couple of years ago, for £2.99. The hardback versions are more collectable – decent used copies retail for about £50.

Lyrics 1962-1985 by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan lyrics book, second collection

Lyrics 1962-1985 by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Writings And Drawings was brought up to date (and re-titled) in 1985 by a handsome Alfred A Knopf hardback and then by this large-format paperback (Jonathan Cape, London, 1987). It added subsequent album releases, up to Empire Burlesque.

I also have a small format paperback version, published by HarperCollins in 1994.

The Knopf hardback, available second hand for about £50, is desirable, the two paperbacks less so – that pictured cost me less than £5.

Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001

Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001 (published in 2004) takes the story up to “Love And Theft”. It dispenses with the drawings but adds artwork taken from album covers. I bought this hardback copy for £5.99 at a Virgin Records “fire sale”; it now costs up to £50, second hand.

Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001, covering the albums up to "Love And Theft"

Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-2001

You can still buy the subsequent paperback version (Simon & Schuster, 2006) for about £15. Its content looks identical to that of the 2004 hardback – the only obvious difference is the slightly smaller format.

It has the most engaging cover of any of the versions of Bob Dylan lyrics: not the most collectable version but, to my eyes, the most attractive.

Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962: replacement or complement?

For fans seeking the most complete book of lyrics, Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962 clearly replaces all three earlier collections.  It includes the lyrics of albums since “Love And Theft”, plus – big bonus – lyrics from The Bootleg Series, published for the first time.

And I’m looking forward to reading the Christopher Ricks annotations – another bonus. Ricks is one of the most acute Dylan commentators.

Most fans looking for the most complete collection of Bob Dylan lyrics will probably wait until the October 2015 publication of the $50 “mass market” edition of Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962.

For collectors, who enjoy assembling artefacts in sets, Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962 nicely complements earlier collections. It’s priced within the reach of most Dylan collectors and will find a place alongside the three earlier collections of Bob Dylan lyrics.

For investors, Bob Dylan – The Lyrics Since 1962 is the only lyrics collection with scope for significant growth in value, though few true investors will be interested in an asset priced at a mere $200.

Hardcore investors will have considered only the limited edition of 50, priced at $5,000. And some will have considered buying rather more than one copy.

Are you a Dylan fan? A collector? Or an investor?  Why do you buy collections of Bob Dylan lyrics?