Drawn Blank

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A mid-1990s Dylan oddity is his fourth book, Drawn Blank. While two of his earlier books were obvious projects – The Songs of Bob Dylan (1975) and Lyrics, 1962-1985 (1985) – and one should have been an obvious project until it misfired (Tarantula), Drawn Blank was probably unexpected. The book is a collection of sketches for paintings that Dylan never painted. That it was published by Random House makes it that much more odd.

Dylan included sketches in his earlier collections of lyrics, and even painted the cover for Self-Portrait, so it was not out of the blue that he liked to dabble in drawing and painting. Drawn Blank collects pencil and charcoal sketches from 1989 to 1992, and he hadn’t significantly improved as a visual artist since the 1970s. The subjects are generally the same – life drawing (often nude, or semi-nude women) and, quite frequently, the views from what seem to be hotel rooms. It is these latter images that are more interesting to me, because they at least suggest something about Dylan and his lifestyle – the nudes, frankly, could be drawn by almost anyone.

That Dylan draws does not surprise me at all – creative people are often attracted to multiple modes of expression. What is surprising, I guess, is that a publisher the size of Random House would have seen a significant market for this work. Given the declining sales of Dylan albums at this time, the fan base must have seemed somewhat small. Then again, even a small fraction of Dylan’s album buying audience is probably larger than the market for all but the biggest art books.

Maybe it’s just that these drawings are so average. The work is quite mundane, and uninspired. It actually took some effort to flip through the library copy so that I could honestly say that I had at least looked at every one, and I would never have enough interest to go back to them. This is super-fan material, that’s for sure.

The copy that I have in front of me I took out from my university library. It has an old-fashioned paper in the back noting when it was checked out and back in. Since 1994 I am the fourth person to borrow it – and one of the other three was an interlibrary loan. Now I’m really curious about who the other two University of Calgary students or staff were that would have borrowed this, and I wonder what they were looking for that they couldn’t take in from a quick glance.

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