In the autumn of 2008, the National Gallery of Denmark contacted Bob Dylan through his manager and agreed to stage his first major exhibition in Copenhagen. Dylan regarded the Drawn Blank Series as a finished project and embarked on an entirely new series of paintings. It sparked a period of intensive work and creativity as Dylan produced a series of more than forty paintings in less than a year.
Never wanting to remain static in a single form of expression, Dylan is constantly experimenting and testing new artistic techniques. Today, Dylan believes that the Drawn Blank Series should not be regarded as representative of his art. He is more interested in directing attention to The Brazil Series; a rich body of work that he feels offers a more accurate reflection of his adventures within pictorial art.
Dylan’s life on the road has dictated a transient nomadic existence for the last fifty years. Truly, citizenship has little resonance for Dylan. He is indigenous to everywhere and nowhere, a member of the global community, a child of the world. In short; no roots, incredible wings.
As a result, there is no one location in which he is either a resident nor indeed a tourist; a fact which arguably enables the unique perspectives he captures in his work. His paintings are neither derisive nor sympathetic, rather they are the product of a consummate observer who has no bias, only his presence in the moment to guide his hand. Due to his iconic status and instant recognisability, he is forced to be a voyeur, his interaction with the world around him forcibly passive - he cannot partake actively in the scenes we visit in his art. This context, far from hindering the end result, creates a captivating dynamic whereby the viewer is forced to engage with each piece, in order to view it through Dylan’s eyes.
The Brazil Series is an interesting departure from The Drawn Blank Series, and is a product of Dylan’s bravery as an artist. Encouraged by the critical acclaim he had received, notably from such luminaries as John Elderfield (Chief Curator of Paintings & Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Larry Gagosian, he was emboldened to experiment and expand his oeuvre. Despite being universally acknowledged as one of the most culturally relevant individuals of today, Dylan is at his core an artist, imbued with self-doubt and insecurity - his own biggest critic. With this in mind, it is not difficult to imagine how gratifying such an imprimatur from respected industry leaders must have been for him.
Notoriously enigmatic, this series of work quite deliberately ensures that his followers asking questions, such is his determination to encourage a “thinking public”. Brazil captured Dylan’s heart and mind during his many visits there,
when he used his free time, outside of rehearsing and performing, to gain an understanding and respect for the people and their culture. The dichotomy at play was then, and remains, an endless source of fascination, from the stark contrast of excess played out against a backdrop of poverty, from the geographical diversity, through to persistent inequality despite an economic surge - Brazil offered up its many faces to Dylan’s thoughtful scrutiny.
Brazil has the makings of a global power player, and is arguably on the cusp on taking a greater lead on the world stage. Dylan recognises that the country has every ingredient necessary for advancement: its population - fifth largest in the world - is relatively young, it has vast natural resources, swathes of available arable land and a growing profile. Moreover, there is no other country that manifests such change, such improvement, with each visit Dylan makes. This evolution, seemingly playing out in front of his eyes, combined with the hope and belief of the people of Brazil, has long intrigued and charmed Dylan in equal measure.
In an overarching sense, The Brazil Series is contextually relevant to understand both Bob Dylan’s roots as an artist, and his vision for how he would like his portfolio to develop. Here we see an artist who looks beyond the prosaic, ever searching for an angle, a point of difference, the unexpected and elusive, to elevate an image from a scene viewed as a passing glance or stolen moment, to an enduring work of art. To do so, he employs a powerful application of texture into his work, enabling the viewer to experience these scenes in a captivatingly four dimensional way. Therein lies the skill of Bob Dylan as an artist; he sees beyond the colours, shadows and forms of the world around him, he views the very fibres and grains of every object, person and setting, and is able to translate this perception accordingly to suffuse his art with the texture for which he has become renowned.