His paintings are one piece with the folk roots of his music
In the early 1960s, as his rise as a musician accelerated, Dylan began to draw. In Chronicles, his 2004 memoir, he suggested it was a way of keeping control of a rapidly changing life. “I sat down at the table, took out a pencil and paper and drew the typewriter, a crucifix, a rose, pencils, knives and pins, empty cigarette boxes. I would completely lose track of time. . . Not that I thought I was a good designer, but I felt like I was bringing some order to the chaos.
Drawing, painting and sculpture have been his way of maintaining order ever since. This is a fairly simple reason for making visual art. Songs are temporal, with a beginning, an end, a duration, and sometimes a narrative, but a painting can be devoid of these traits. As Dylan said, “the purpose of art is to stop time”. But since many of his images start out as sketches made on his endless tours, perhaps their unspoken purpose is to pass the time.
Dylan is one of the many musicians who came of age in the 1960s who saw painting as more than just a hobby – David Bowie, Ronnie Wood, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and Paul McCartney among them. Some are more accomplished than others (two of the top performers were older musicians, George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra), but whether or not you believe in the 10,000 hour rule, it would be unreasonable to expect equal levels. competence or innovation in two very different disciplines.
What unites these musicians-painters is a colorful expressive manner with a lot of slosh, which is often the mark of self-taught artists. This loose style suits Dylan. Its main subject is everyday America – the bridges of New York, the country railroads, the interiors of apartments, the dining on the outskirts of the city. This is the land of Edward Hopper and Ed Ruscha and the stuff of countless movies, people-focused and full of vibe – boredom, melancholy, and alienation. It is also a piece with the folk roots of its music.
It may be nothing more than a coincidence, but the brutal handling of his painting reflects the abrasive edge of his singing voice, while his paintings tend to have a somewhat offbeat outlook reminiscent of his inadvertent approach. subjects of his songs. Like a musical hook, there is usually a strong central element, a building or a tree.
But that’s the problem: when you know the images are by Dylan, it’s easier to spot, or imagine, a broader sensitivity. He was right, he is not a great draftsman and his paintings do not do anything surprising. But they don’t need them – they’re from Bob Dylan.
“Bob Dylan: Retrospectrum” opens November 30 at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum / Florida International University
This article appears in our “Who is Bob Dylan?” series