Bob Dylan, music legend and Nobel laureate, is also a prolific painter whose works depicting the landscapes and culture of the United States are now the focus of a major London exhibition.
Around 200 paintings by the American singer-songwriter, produced by the 75-year-old in the last two years, are on show from Saturday at the Halcyon Gallery in the British capital’s plush Mayfair district.
The collection of oil, acrylic and watercolour paintings reveals a different side to Robert Allen Zimmerman, an icon of 20th century US popular music, whose poetic lyrics earned him the Nobel Prize for literature last month, to much surprise.
Dylan announced last week that he would travel to Stockholm to receive the prize, making the timing of this exhibition all the more apt.
“It’s a great honour for us hosting the exhibition and for him to have received that honour at the same time,” Paul Green, president of the Halcyon Gallery, said.
Dylan began exploring the visual arts in the early 1960s. He designed the cover of the 1968 album “Music from Big Pink” by Canadian roots-rock group The Band.
More recently, his works have been exhibited in Milan and New York.
“Dylan has been passionate about art since he first moved to New York and was taken by his girlfriend Suze Rotolo around museums,” said Green.
Since then he has not stopped painting, using his numerous tours to sketch out the homeland which he describes so often in his songs.
‘The Beaten Path’
The exhibition, entitled “The Beaten Path”, retraces the singer’s travels across the four corners of the United States, from its supercities to its immense expanses of desert.
“The common theme of these works having something to do with the American landscape — how you see it while criss-crossing the land,” Dylan explains in a written introduction to the exhibition.
More specifically: “staying out of the mainstream and travelling back road, free-born style”.
In San Francisco, Dylan chose to paint a seafood seller in Chinatown, rather than the city’s endless Victorian houses or its skyscrapers.
“The San Francisco Chinatown street stands merely two blocks away from corporate, windowless buildings. But these cold, giant structures have no meaning for me in the world that I see or choose to see,” explains Dylan.
One picture shows the Manhattan Bridge in New York City, whose imposing metal structure rises up between two red brick buildings.
Another features Roy’s motel, on the famous Route 66 in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert, which Dylan brings to life with cartoon-like brushstrokes.
And there is the little doughnut shop, whose red and yellow front window leaps out of the canvas thanks to the striking use of acrylics.
One of the standout works of the exhibition shows an “endless highway” — a clear allegory of the artist’s life: always on the road, between two towns, two hotels.
“This is the largest painting that Dylan has ever undertaken, it’s monumental on every scale,” said Green.
“This is the never-ending road... almost a rollercoaster of Dylan’s life.”
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