the answer is in the pictures

the answer is in the pictures

Among the paintings, some of great dimensions, sculptures, drawings and installations that Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941, will present this fall in Miami, are those dedicated to the city of New York, where it was born. his career as a musician, which were used for some covers of his albums in the sixties, his series about Brazil or Asia and their landscapes, panoramic roads or naked motels with human presence.

More than 120 works conceived over six decades that will allow us to delve into the mind and trajectory of a key artist in North American culture in recent decades and yet paradoxically have been presented before in China. Yes, times have already changed, also for Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan: ‘Sunset,Monument Valley Triptrych’, 2019

Courtesy of Bob Dylan

Retrospectrum , title of the great exhibition, was in fact conceived for the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai, MAM, one of the greatest temples cultural activities of a country that between 2016 and 2020 has opened a museum every two days, and that also implies filling and programming them. Bob Dylan has been painting and drawing practically since he picked up a guitar, but only in recent years has his more plastic side taken flight. with many of his works still unpublished (until they went to Shanghai); The artistic director of MAM, Shai Baitel, saw an opportunity there and was totally right: inaugurated in 2019, Retrospectrum it was seen by hundreds of thousands of people and it became the artistic phenomenon of the year, what came later from there with the virus we already know, and what is still unknown is how the recent accusations of abuse will affect the Florida exhibition against the artist.

The beginnings

“Not that I thought he was a great draftsman, but he did feel that he was putting order in the chaos that surrounded me,” the musician wrote in his memoirs.

The prestigious Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum has the exhibition in its programming for the end of November, to coincide with the edition of Miami Art Week, with which it will be a smaller version than the one presented in China (250 works), but in change prepares a surprise. the presentation of the American Pastoral series, of which little is known, except that the title suits it like a glove given the current circumstances of its creator.


Bob Dylan: ‘Blue Swallow Motel Rte. 66’, 2019

Courtesy of Bob Dylan and Halcyon Gallery, London

“I believe that the key to the future lies in the remnants of the past,” wrote Bob Dylan in the foreword to the catalog of The Beaten Path , the series about North American landscapes that he produced between 2015 and 2019 for the Halcyon Gallery in London and that perhaps best reflects the artist’s personality, at least as we know it. In his memoirs, Chronicles 1 In 2004, Dylan dated the origins of his beginnings in the visual arts in the sixties: “What would you draw? Well, I guess I would start with whatever I had on hand. I sat down at the table, took a pencil and paper and took out the typewriter, a crucifix, a rose, pencils, knives and pins, cigarettes, empty boxes. I would lose track of time completely … Not that I thought I was a great draftsman, but I did feel like I was bringing order to the chaos around me. “

His teacher

Crucial was the two-month art course that he followed in 1974 with Norman Raeben: “I did not teach you so much to draw as to put your head and eyes together … I would look into you and tell you who you are,” wrote Dylan

From that chaos came the cover of Music from Big Pink , The Band’s debut album in 1968, a rather naive portrait of six musicians, also his self-portrait for the cover of Self portrait (1970), as naive, or rudimentary, as the previous one, but showing an orderly artist, with the short, clean-shaven hair. The exploration, or ordering, of that chaos would continue with the publication of Writings and drawings (1973), which brought together some of his first ink sketches with lyrics to his songs. In black and white it is also the cover of Planet Waves (1974), with three figures that could represent the artist, sharper than in previous paintings.


Bob Dylan: ‘Elevated train’, 2020

Courtesy of Bob Dylan

The turning point, however, was the meeting with Norman Raeben, with whom he followed a painting course in New York in 1974. It only lasted two months, with classes that lasted from 8.30 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon for five days. a week. Raeben, who was already over 70 years old at the time, was the son of the Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem, the author of the story on which it is based, among others. Fiddler on the Roof, and the influence it exerted on the singer-songwriter helped to get him out of an existential crisis … in exchange for putting him into a marriage, to such an extent he changed his way of seeing things, but that’s another story. “He didn’t teach you so much to draw as to put your head and eyes together … he would look inside you and tell you who you are,” Dylan would write. With the new millennium inaugurated, it seems that the artist has focused on the visual arts, composing a new autobiography.

In China

‘Retrospectrum’ was presented between 2019 and 2020 at the MAM Museum in Shanghai: it was a tremendous success, hundreds of thousands of people came to see it

“In 1974 I played the first of many shows with The Band, maybe in eight years. We were at a hockey stadium in Chicago. Maybe there were 18,000 people there. The Band and I hadn’t played in public together since 1966, when our performances caused a lot of confusion and anger. Now we were in Chicago starting over. There was no way to predict what was going to happen. By the end of the concert we had played more than 25 or 30 songs and we were on the stage looking down. The audience was dim. Suddenly someone struck a match. And then someone else struck another match (…) Seconds later, it seemed like the whole stadium was on fire and they were going to burn the place down. The Band and I searched for the nearest exit as neither of us wanted to go down in flames. It seemed that nothing had changed. If we think the response was extreme on the previous tours, this was apocalyptic. Every one of us on stage thought the fans were going to burn down the stadium. Obviously we are wrong. We misinterpret the reaction of the crowd. What was thought of as disapproval was actually a big gesture of thanks. Looks are deceiving”.


Bob Dylan: ‘The Endless Highway’, 2016

Courtesy of Bob Dylan and Halcyon Gallery, London

This is how Bob Dylan also describes in the prologue of The beaten path (Castle Fine Art, 2019) the reasons that led him to figuration within painting: he did not want to create images that would be misinterpreted by him or someone else. This is particularly true in this series, with roads, houses, piers, cars, streets, swamps, railroad tracks, bridges, motels, truck stops, power lines, corrals, theater marquees, churches; the painting Blue Swallow Motel (right page) belongs to this series. This sought-after realism, passed through the Dylan sieve, is also present in the series dedicated to Brazil (2010), Asia (2011) and New Orleans (2013), with jazz as the central axis of the latter, even in his iron sculptures and installations, reminiscent of his childhood in the Iron Range, the iron mountain range and its mines in Minnesota and the northern United States, Repurposed pieces that he turns into partitions, furniture or doors that attract him because of “the negative space they convey, can exclude or enclose you, and somehow there is no difference,” he wrote.

In 2007 he exhibited versions of the drawings created while on tour in the late eighties at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Germany. The displays of his graphic works have followed one another ever since and have evidenced an artist who, as in his landscape paintings, has tried to stay “out of the mainstream and travel back roads.”

Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum, Florida International University. Miami From November 30 to April 17, 2022.

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the answer is in the pictures