The Art of Bob Dylan: 60 Years of Relentless Reinvention

The Art of Bob Dylan: 60 Years of Relentless Reinvention

Coinciding with Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday, the Halcyon Gallery opens a double exhibition honoring 60 years of the legendary art of the American singer-songwriter

Today (May 24, 2021), Bob Dylan celebrates his 80th birthday. 80 years is a long time, but when thinking about the production that this singer-songwriter, activist, poet, visual artist and cultural icon has accomplished, one can’t help but wonder if we are counting in calendar years or in light years.

Coinciding with Dylan’s milestone birthday, the Halcyon Gallery – which has represented Dylan’s visual art for 15 years – opens the monumental dual gallery “ Bob Dylan: 60 Years of Creation ” combining the work of its strong archives and all new parts.

Bob Dylan, East Harlem elevated, 2020, Acrylic on canvas

Dylan’s non-exclusive relationship with the creative disciplines has seen him move from singer to painter with bewildering naturalism over the years. The exhibition covers her creative accomplishments through media, from the release of her first studio album in 1962 to the recent announcement of her upcoming museum retrospective at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Art, Miami, in November 2021.

Among the works in London are figurative paintings from 2020-2021, in which Dylan confronts the American landscape with a renewed and deep consideration of his people. Among these new works is East Harlem elevated, and Metro cityscape triptych (both 2020), the latter measures more than 1.8 meters high by 2.7 meters wide. These are part of Dylan’s monumental tributes to New York City, the city that shaped his early music career. Dylan appeared on the New York City’s Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early 1960s, pricking up ears with his intricate thematic songs that quickly became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Above: Bob Dylan, Abandoned drive-in, Yucca Valley, 2017, Acrylic on canvas. Above: One too many 2020, Acrylic on canvas

As anyone who has listened to a Dylan album from the last 60 years would imagine, the subject matter of the show is very varied: from boxers and sunsets, to dive bars and highways. Much is anchored in a clear sense of place: Brazil series (2010), The Asia series (2011) and The New Orleans Series (2013) – drawn from life, memory, archival film and photography.

Others are more cryptic. Dylan grew up in an area known as the “ Iron Range ” in Hibbing, Minnesota, a region rich in industries where the artist first absorbed country and blues music from the south. His Ironworks series resembled doors, screens, furniture and wall hangings, but also sculptural poems. They include reused industrial pieces – keys, vices and brackets – that Dylan transforms into symbols, allusions and punchlines that still inhabit the cruelty and the story of their origins.

Bob Dylan, Double door I, 2020, Iron and vintage objects

Bob Dylan, Shelter from the storm, 2020. Original handwritten words in pen on paper, graphite drawing on paper

In Mondo Scripto, the creative threads meet head-on. The series features the songwriter’s selection of his most renowned songs, each handwritten in pen on paper and paired with a graphite pencil drawing.

In his live performances, Dylan often returns to historical songs, puzzling Dylanphiles with wildly revised versions of his most acclaimed works. In Mondo Scripto, some songs have had a few lines changed; others see completely rewritten verses. These compositions demonstrate the artist’s ability to tirelessly extract from the past while creating something fundamentally new.

When it comes to art forms, Dylan may have mastered more than most. But beyond the greatest hits, literary feats, political activism, and unsurpassed recipes for words and music, there is a life tangled in the art of reinvention. §

Installation view of “Bob Dylan: 60 Years of Creation” at the Halcyon Gallery, London. Photography: Guy Bell

Installation view of “Bob Dylan: 60 Years of Creation” at the Halcyon Gallery, London. Photography: Guy Bell

Installation view of “Bob Dylan: 60 Years of Creation” at the Halcyon Gallery, London. Photography: Guy Bell

Portrait of Bob Dylan in the 2000s. © Mark Seliger

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