A coffee table book of Bob Dylan’s paintings, called Drawn Blank, has just been released by Prestel Press for the hefty price of $60. The Dylan scribbles are really drawings Bob did about ten years ago and subsequently filled in with color for a German museo retrospective last fall.
As reproduced in the book, these paintings are awful, so arbitrary in their gestures and colors that they make you appreciate the calculated randomness of artists like Peter Doig and Elizabeth Peyton, whose style Dylan unintentionally mimics. These pieces show us that Dylan has managed to leaf through art books over the years and thus remember the styles of the greats which he copies and ultimately sullies. Bob’s Back Alley in Chicago is a bald imitation of Van Gogh’s famous bedroom painting at Arles.
A bare-breasted woman rising from hell is a spot-on borrowing of a famous Munch. A rear view of a female with a large blue fundament could be a Fauve or a Gauguin. Dylan tries to hide his lack of design by cutting off profiles and awkwardly shoehorning figures into the clichéd space of barrooms and back alleys. Sketches by sidewalk artists in Central Park do it better.
Thematically, Bob isolates a melancholy aloneness in picture after picture until a gray sky permeates all. In 1989, Dylan’s pal guitarist Ron Wood opened a space in Noho to show off his kitschy renditions of other famous rocksters. This trope goes back to John Lennon’s lame doodles, reminding us that many guitar heroes started out at art school and abandoned it for lack of talent. In a preview piece last year, I looked forward to Dylan transcending this sad trend, but it was not to be.
Don’t buy Drawn Blank. Peruse it at St. Mark’s Bookstore as I did and put the 60 bills back in your jeans. God hands out the talent sparingly, whatever the crossover pretensions of the talented.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).