While it likely won’t be his final art show, the last one that I will be writing about it on this blog is Face Value, an exhibition of a dozen new paintings at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It ran from August 2013 to January of this year. It was pretty okay.
I like the National Portrait Gallery, which is sort of an adjunct to the National Gallery. Like a proper National Gallery, both offer free admission, and since they’re right in the heart of things at Trafalgar Square I always make an effort to stop by when I’m in London. The National Portrait Gallery has the advantage of not being completely swamped with people during tourist season, and they often have good, small shows.
This Dylan show was probably intended to be one of them. It is only twelve paintings, all portraits of course (in keeping with the theme of the museum). They are all the same size (two feet high, a foot and a half wide) and each is pastel on paper. There is a real consistency to them – strong lines, smudged colours, straight address of the sitter to the viewer. Each of the works is titled with the name of the sitter, but none of them were names that I recognized. As drawings I think that they’re better than anything else Dylan has yet shown, though I don’t love them.
The catalogue features an essay and interview with Dylan by John Elderfield. This is the best example of Dylan speaking about his art, so if this is a topic of interest to you it is probably worth checking out the interview. Dylan, as is typical of him, constantly thwarts the questions, rejecting their premises. The most interesting moment is right at the end:
JE: There must be hundreds of individual characters in your songs, yet there is hardly any description of their appearances. Is that why you have wanted to make sketches and paintings of the appearances of characters you have seen?
BD: No, that’s not the reason. I don’t feel that anything is lacking or absent from my songs. I haven’t been waiting fifty years to put “Girl From the North Country” on canvas, as if the song wasn’t enough. The songs don’t inspire me to paint. Painting for me is a secondary occupation. I’m thinking of anything but lyrics when I paint; mine or anybody else’s. If you want to talk about songs we can do that all day. And if you want to talk about paintings we can do that, too. If you see a relationship between the two art forms, that’s up to you, but I certainly don’t. I just did a series of New Orleans-based paintings for the Palazzo Reale in Milan and nobody assumed they had anything to do with the songs I’ve written. There’s a simple reason for that: there is no connection. I know there are some people uncomfortable with that idea, but that has nothing to do with me. That’s them thinking that they’re thinking.
So there you go.
Also, the catalogue has a great photo of Dylan from the 1990s in his painting studio with one of dogs. He’s wearing Zubaz and a tank top that says “Italia Roma”. It’s awesome.