It’s not unusual that painters have been accused of being bad painters. A child could do it better, critics argue. Nothing new in that. It’s excately the same thing with Bob Dylan as a painter. He ought to stick to his music and his poetry, people claim.
I must admit I felt just about the same when I saw the covers to the albums Self Portrait and Planet Waves. I was not impressed.
I’m sorry to say, this is old news – but good news all the same
I then attended the exhibition of his The Brazil Series at Denmark's National Gallery September, 2011, and now I was impressed. Those paintings resembled in many ways his lyrics. Some of them are snapshots of a situation with no declaration. You’ll have to make your own interpretation. And there’s always a lot of elements to interpret: What is the situation here, what do the depicted persons’s faces express, what goes on in the background? Every picture tells a story and your version of the story is as good as anybody else’s.
It struck me that in many ways those paintings had a similarity to his lyrics. I mean, many of Dylan’s lyrics describe a situation in rather few words and mostly in a common language with words easily understood; almost as a sketch, but indeed a very expressive one. And there is always some kind of a riddle hidden and it’s up to you to find the answer to that riddle. Starting to interpret a Dylan song, you’ll have to uncover many layers of meaning. The same goes for these paintings. Even when there are no persons, just houses, these houses tell a story too about poverty and how people survive in spite of a hard life.
As part of the exhibition an instructive video was shown, featuring the senior research curator of The National Gallery of Denmak, a retired nurse, a young muslim woman, and a boy aged somewhat 10-12 years, each one telling what they gather from the paintings. Watch the video here.
A small nationalist pat on the back to the Danes
I feel sort of honored on behalf of Denmark that Denmark's National Gallery was offered these pictures before everybody else. Furthermore, three years later – in 2014 – the portrait series, Face Value, could be seen at The Museum of National History situated at Frederiksborg Castle north of Copenhagen.
Further sources of information:
Wall Street International Magazine
Kunst Online (Danish homepage)