India’s only daily art newspaper

Bob Dylan epitomises times are a-changin\’

By Gauri Gharpure

Robert Allen Zimmerman, who the world knows as Bob Dylan, was born on this day, May 24, in 1941. Dylan has constantly reinvented himself, giving an outlet to his multifarious talents and passions relentlessly. While Dylan has been the recipient of many awards, perhaps the most significant and controversial of them all is his 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature; he was the first singer-songwriter to be awarded in the category. To the dismay, surprise, and indignation of many, he did not accept the prize publicly but sent a press statement a few days later. That’s Dylan for you! Unpredictable, pathbreaking, perhaps a little stubborn…


This irreverent attitude, however, has been the hallmark of his personality, and also of all his works. Irrespective of the media he chooses to express himself in, he treads on with elusive aloofness. When it comes to art, Dylan has created landscapes, expressed nostalgia depicting his travels along Route 66, illustrations based on his own lyrics, and representations of his trips around the world. As a sculptor, his favorite media seems to be iron. He welds horseshoes and old tools together to create scrap-iron sculptures. In fact, Bob Dylan’s Rail Car, which was installed and revealed this past week at Château La Coste in Provence, France, is a life-sized rail car designed out of dark iron pieces. The installation brings to mind some famous songs from his career such as “Slow Train”, “Freight Train Blues”, and “Train A-Travellin”.



Treading back to where it all began, one finds threads of over-lapping creativity in his life early on. Dylan penned songs that moved the masses by talking about intimate personal and socio-political issues in a style that was so direct, it was almost blunt. ‘The Death of Emmet Till’ was perhaps his very first protest song in support of the Civil Rights Movement performed in 1962. His songs blurred the boundary between poetry given their bold free verse, versatile stylistic treatment, selection of subjects, and the ability to connect with the masses on a direct, introspective level that few other musicians of the time could pull off. Dylan went on to blur the boundary between music and the visual arts too around the same time.


Dylan has designed the covers of many of his albums and that his how his foray into the visual arts first began in 1968. In 1973, he released more artworks in his book Writings and Drawings. While on tours of America, Europe and Asia between 1989 and 1992, Dylan produced a collection of sketches that would be published by Random House as Drawn Blank in 1994. The series depicts fleeting images of life on the road: portraits, landmarks, quiet corners of unknown places. “I was just drawing whatever I felt like drawing, whenever I felt like doing it. The idea was always to do it without affectation or self-reference, to provide some kind of panoramic view of the world as I was seeing it at the time,” Dylan says on his website. Since 1994, Dylan has published eight books of paintings and drawings.


\’The works conjure a feeling of transience, a journey from the metropolis to the natural world via road, bridge, rail, and air. Together they present a panoramic vision of the American landscape from Dylan’s particular perspective. Dylan’s artwork invites the viewer to participate in a trip from city to country, night time to daytime, around the clock and the calendar. Through music, words and art, Dylan remains restlessly creative, going down the road with his eyes wide open. As he sang in 1965, ‘he not busy being born is busy dying,” says Bill Flanagan, an American author, television executive and radio host, about Dylan’s art notes on Dylan’s website.


Prolific with his output, he has continuously exhibited his works across the globe in the last two decades according to information available online. The Drawn Blank Series, opened at the Kunstsammlungen in Chemnitz, Germany, in 2008 and showcased more than 200 watercolors and gouaches made from the original drawings. From September 2010 until April 2011, the National Gallery of Denmark exhibited 40 large-scale acrylic paintings in The Brazil Series. An exhibition of Dylan\’s art, The Asia Series, opened at the Gagosian Madison Avenue Gallery in September 2011, displaying scenes in China and the Far East. Dylan\’s second show at the Gagosian Gallery, Revisionist Art, opened in November 2012. The show consisted of thirty paintings, transforming and satirizing popular magazines, including Playboy and Babytalk. In February 2013, Dylan exhibited the New Orleans Series of paintings at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. In August 2013, Britain\’s National Portrait Gallery in London hosted Dylan\’s first major UK exhibition, Face Value, featuring twelve pastel portraits.


Over the years, the Halcyon Gallery in London has mounted Mood Swings, an exhibition in which Dylan displayed seven wrought iron gates he had made, featured a collection of his drawings, watercolors and acrylic works, and an exhibition called Mondo Scripto; the works consisted of Dylan hand-written lyrics of his songs, with each song illustrated by a drawing. The exhibition, The Beaten Path, depicted American landscapes and urban scenes, inspired by Dylan\’s travels across the USA. Retrospectrum, the largest retrospective of Dylan\’s visual art to date, consisting of over 250 works in a variety of media, debuted at the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai in 2019. More than 1,00,000 visitors viewed the show over a period of three months. A similar thematic exhibition, \”Deep Focus\”, drawn from film imagery, opened at the Frost Art Museum in Miami on November 30, 2021.


Bob Dylan has certainly found himself a new passion and it seems apt to end with an excerpt of one of his famous songs.

The Times They Are A-Changin\’ (1964)

\”Come mothers and fathers,

Throughout the land,

And don’t criticize,

What you can’t understand.\”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *