Bob Dylan is one of the most renowned and accomplished musicians. He has created such songs as Like a Rolling Stone and The Times They Are a Changing. Both of which became anthems of the 1960’s counterculture and civil rights movements. As he matured as a musical artist, he began exploring other art forms. In the late 1980’s, Dylan began documenting his “never ending tour” through a series of sketches done in both pencil and charcoal. These sketches portray a wide variety of subjects, including: portraits, landscapes, interiors, still lifes, city scenes and nudes. In 2007 Dylan converted these sketches into a series of water-colors titled Drawn Blank.
I have always been fascinated by Dylan’s musical form. He is able to convey beautiful and soothing images though his simple yet illustrious sound. The poetry and stories found in his lyrics have often left me in an imaginative daze. Through his paintings and sketches, Dylan is able to further convey the same image of the world that I envision while enjoying his music. For this reason, I find Dylan’s artwork to be both intriguing and enjoyable.
One of the best examples of Dylan’s work portraying the same feel as his music is the piece Statue of Liberty. In this painting, Dylan creates a simple desolate image of a cowboy in a western town gazing into the mountains with a statue of liberty in the foreground. The depressed look upon the statue’s face and the solitude of the environment combine to create the same longing depressed feel described in the lyrics of the song Absolutely Sweet Marie. The lyrics of Absolutely Sweet Marie tell the story of an abandoned heartbroken lover in search of Marie. In the song, these depressing lyrics are in stark contrast to the upbeat instrumentals. This is very similar to the contrast of the depressing subject with upbeat colors seen in Statue of Liberty.
The sketch Woman Near a Window further shows the similarities between Dylan’s songs and art work. In this piece, a half nude but un-sexualized woman lays on her stomach next to a window. By making her body rectangular and charcoal, it lays in direct contrast to the detailed pencil scene outside the window. The roughness in the strokes of her body brings a sense of discomfort, while the smooth strokes in the exterior scene bring a soothing feel. This contrasting technique and feel is very similar to that often invoked by Dylan’s voice. For example, in the song Visions of Johana Dylan often changes the tone of his voice from a raspy cold tone to a smooth comforting one. This change of tone accomplishes the same underlying feel as the change of technique observed in Dylan’s sketch. In the painting version of the sketch, Dylan accomplishes the same contrast by keeping the body charcoal, but the exterior smooth water color strokes.
Dylan also employed a technique of replicating the same painting in multiple different color schemes. This can be seen in the three different renditions of Rooftop Bar. Each rendition brings a slightly different feel to the piece. By making the scene very ambiguous, much of the emotion is contained in the color. For example, in the red piece, the environment seems very sexual as the curvy blue woman stands out against the red background. This woman is very deemphasized in the blue scene in which her blue dress blends into the blue background, making the entire scene much less sexual. This is very similar to the multiple renditions of the song Just Like a Woman. In many of Dylan’s live versions, he emphasizes different parts of the song. Specifically, the difference occurs when he states the sexual aspects of a women, “ She tastes just like a woman... She makes love just like a woman…” and then Dylan quickly states “But she breaks just like a little girl.” When the former lines are emphasized in some renditions the song seems much more sexual than when the later line is emphasized.
Mossinger, Ingrid. Bob Dylan The Drawn Blank Series. Munich, 2007. Prestel