Bob Dylan: “The Brazil Series” Paintings & Drawings in Copenhagen

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Arts/Entertainment, Culture, Politics

Published on October 28, 2010 with No Comments

Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark). Photo by Judi Iranyi.

By Ralph E. Stone

October 29, 2010

On our recent trip to Copenhagen, we visited the National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst) for the first public showing of Bob Dylan’s “The Brazil Series,” 40 acrylic paintings and eight drawings he created during the period 2009-10. Yes, the Bob Dylan of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” ” Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Like a Rolling Stone” fame. Actually Dylan has been sketching most of his life.

Why visit a Bob Dylan painting and drawing exhibit in Copenhagen? Because my wife and I are longtime Dylan fans, my wife more than me. We have all or most of Dylan’s albums/CDs, even his born-again Christian albums, and my wife has heard him in concert here in San Francisco. Therefore, seeing the Dylan paintings and drawings was a must.

“The Brazil Series” is exhibited in a large well lit gallery. In a gallery alcove, there is a timeline of Dylan’s career. The painting are exhibited in the main part of the gallery. On a back wall, there a video of the curator discussing Dylan’s paintings interspersed with Dylan sketching and four persons expressing their views of the paintings. The timeline, the video, and the painting and drawing labels are in English. (English is the common language among the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden).

The collection includes figurative scenes from Brazilian slums, farms and beaches. The 69-year-old folk singer and songwriter sketched the scenes during visits to Brazil and then later painted them on canvas in a studio. Dylan said that he chose Brazil because he’s been there and he likes the atmosphere. The paintings were created specifically for the National Gallery.

The paintings are vaguely reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Matisse with such titles as “The Incident,” “Favela Villa Candido,” and “Barber Shop,” displaying Dylan’s fascination with Brazil’s cultural diversity. They picture crowded slums, spaghetti-eaters in a cafe and workers in a vineyard. Dylan also captures sombre snapshots of courtrooms, street shootings, cabaret dancers, even a solitary boxer practising in a gym. According to Curator Kaspar Monrad, Dylan said that if he could have expressed in song what he has now painted, he would have written a song instead.

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of Bob Dylan: The Brazil Series. The book is the first publication to subject Dylan’s visual art to serious, art-historical analysis and readings.

Dylan has previously exhibited his paintings. The critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Bob Dylan – The Drawn Blank Series” opened at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz in Germany in the autumn of 2007, and smaller selections of many of the watercolors displayed in that exhibition were subsequently shown in galleries in Europe and the U.S.

We learned later that the Danish critics were not very appreciative of Dylan’s work. The critic for the daily Berlingske review was typical: “When we talk about music, Bob Dylan is one of the great Picassos of the 20th century, but this is not the case for his painting,” And art history professor Peter Brix Soendergaard, interviewed by the daily Information said, “Bob Dylan paints like any other amateur, using a rather oafish figurative style, . . .”He is what we used to call a Sunday painter.”

The Danish weekly, Weekendavisen, defended Dylan’s work with faint praise stating that he’s ”not a great painter,” but noted his work “is interesting because he is not pretentious and he has an eye for drama.”

My wife and I are not art experts, but we have visited museums around the world and appreciate fine art. In our considered opinion, Dylan is good amateur painter; his paintings are interesting and unpretentious with strong colors. The exhibit is well worth seeing, especially to Bob Dylan fans.

The National Gallery was criticized by some for putting “financial interest ahead of artistic judgement,” knowing that the Dylan name would bring in a crowd.

It is not unheard of for artists in one medium to branch out into another medium. For example, actor Dennis Hopper was a prolific photographer, painter, and sculptor. And Kevin Bacon and Keanu Reeves are actor-musicians. There celebrity status draws in the curious.

There is still time to view “The Brazil Series” as it doesn’t close until January 30, 2011.

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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