Bob Dylan’s Visual Art Is As Enigmatic As Bob Dylan

Don’t look for wind imagery. “There are no visual echoes of his music in the paintings,” says the curator of an exhibit of the legendary song writer’s visual art.

Bob Dylan has always seemed to revel in our attempts to make sense of him or identify the intention behind his music. He takes the same attitude toward his visual art, which is on display at The Ross Art Group in New York through the end of May. The press release for The Drawn Blank Series states that the works “visually echo the stylistic hallmarks of Dylan’s prose, poetry, and music.” But Mickey Ross, who curated the exhibit, tells us it’s fruitless to connect Dylan’s artwork with his music. “Bob Dylan feels that his art is a complete standalone situation,” says Ross. “You’re not going to see an image of blowing in the wind or a man playing a tambourine.”


The exhibit was previously on display in Germany and the U.K. and is only now coming to the U.S. It features about 50 works, mostly acrylic on canvas, gouache (water color) on paper and prints of these works that Dylan has enhanced with paint. They are based on charcoal sketches that he made while touring between 1989 and 1992. The pieces range in price from $2,500 to $400,000.

In describing the style of the paintings, Ross would only talk about the “harmony in Dylan’s imagery,” his “consistent” style and his “interesting” use of color. He said Dylan painted multiple versions of the same painting, each with a different color scheme. Man on a Bridge, for instance, has four versions. “Each one gives you a very different sense of what the person might be thinking, or his place in world or his mood,” says Ross. But as to what those thoughts or moods are? “Whatever the viewer takes away is what Dylan was trying to achieve,” says Ross.

Train tracks are also a common image in the series–one which Ross couldn’t help but analyze. He explained that Dylan spends 100 to 200 days a year on the road. “The train tracks connote to me this journey through his professional life and personal life,” Ross says. “The tracks don’t have a beginning or end. Dylan is far from done with his journey.”

But don’t assume that Dylan was thinking about any of this when he painted the train tracks. Certainly don’t connect this image to his 15th album “Blood on the Tracks.” And while you’re at it, ignore entirely the common theme of traveling in Dylan’s songs. “There are no visual echoes of his music in the paintings,” says Ross. “Dylan’s persona as an artist is apart from any other role that he plays creatively.”

About the author

Jennifer Miller is the author of The Year of the Gadfly (Harcourt, 2012) and Inheriting The Holy Land (Ballantine, 2005). She's a regular contributor to Co.Create.