Shows: Bob Dylan
The Danish National Gallery is currently showing a series of nearly 50 paintings (plus a handful of sketches) by Bob Dylan. Maybe you didn’t know that the great troubadour was also a painter, but he has in fact been painting since 1961, or as he himself states, ‘I have always painted.’ The paintings in Dylan’s ‘Brazil Series’, however, were produced during a period of only one year (2009–10), during which time Dylan was also on tour with his album Together Through Life. The works have never been shown before, and were painted especially for this exhibition. Their overall theme, as the title implies, is Dylan’s interpretation of Brazil – women and men, rural scenarios and urban streets. The paintings themselves are painted in dark tones, with a palette that ranges from browns and reds to earthy greens. Dylan’s style borrows freely from Chagall, Munch, Goya, Matisse and a tad of Picasso – all artists who had their heydays more than a hundred years ago.
There is no doubt that the name Bob Dylan – printed in large, bold letters on a huge sign hanging outside the National Gallery – is enough to pique the interest of a large audience, and it is undoubtedly a coup for the museum to be able to show 50 brand new works by one of the world’s most well-renowned singer-songwriters. The question is whether the exhibition is interesting because of the actual artworks or because of the artist who created them. Is Bob Dylan a multi-talented writer/singer/musician/artist like H.C. Andersen, August Strindberg or Holger Drachmann, who were all writers as well as visual artists? What holds true of Andersen, Strindberg and Drachmann is that they reflected on their time and created works that related to a current reality: Strindberg painted melancholic images that related to his writing, and Andersen’s paper-cuttings and collages were as imaginative as his stories. But does that hold true for Dylan, too?
At first glance, Dylan’s ‘Brazil Series’ seems rather uninteresting – there is no real narrative, nor a discernable personality behind the works. It is also obvious that the paintings were done over a very short period of time: In several places the white canvas can be seen through the layers of paint, and the frames unfortunately don’t cover up the canvases’ white edges. I’m not sure if this is a stylistic choice or just sloppiness, but it adds to the feeling that the pieces were produced very hastily.
It’s difficult to look at Dylan’s paintings without considering his music, and when asked if the National Gallery would have exhibited the works if they were not made by Bob Dylan, curator Kasper Monrad answered with the obvious ‘No’. So is this exhibition interesting to anyone other than the fans who worship everything that Dylan does? No, not really. The motifs, style and theme of the paintings seems old-fashioned and Dylan’s version of Brazil did not manage to capture my interest in more than a few glimpses, which seemed to be based on luck rather than artistic talent.Matilde Digmann