TIMES ARE A-CHANGIN’: BAD ARTISTS IMITATE, GREAT ARTISTS STEAL

The exhibition of paintings by Bob Dylan hosted by the Gagosian Gallery in New York since 20 September 2011 called “The Asia Series”, was announced as follows:

“Dylan’s drawings and paintings are marked by the same constant drive for renewal that characterizes his legendary music. He often draws and paints while on tour, and his motifs bear corresponding impressions of different environments and people. A keen observer, Dylan is inspired by everyday phenomena in such a way that they appear fresh, new, and mysterious.

The Asia Series, a visual reflection on his travels in Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea, comprises people, street scenes, architecture, and landscapes, which can be clearly identified by title and specific cultural details …”

Since its opening, many – including “Dylanologists” – have raised serious questions about whether some of these paintings are based on Mr. Dylan’s own observations, or on photographs from others. To us it is obvious that Mr. Dylan has taken the shots from photographers Léon Busy, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Dmitri Kessel, and copied them exactly.

A press representative for the Gagosian Gallery said in a statement: “While the composition of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings is based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images, the paintings’ vibrancy and freshness come from the colors and textures found in everyday scenes he observed during his travels.”

The gallery also pointed to an interview with Mr. Dylan in its exhibition catalog, in which he is asked whether he paints from sketches or photographs. He responds:

“I paint mostly from real life. It has to start with that. Real people, real street scenes, behind the curtain scenes, live models, paintings, photographs, staged setups, architecture, grids, graphic design. Whatever it takes to make it work. What I’m trying to bring out in complex scenes, landscapes, or personality clashes, I do it in a lot of different ways. I have the cause and effect in mind from the beginning to the end. But it has to start with something tangible.”

A representative for Mr. Dylan declined to comment on the Gagosian exhibition. As the New York Times points out, it is not the first time that Mr. Dylan has been accused of “borrowing” as his use of the writings of others in his lyrics has been noted in the past. In 2006 it was shown that lyrics on Mr. Dylan’s No. 1 album “Modern Times” bore a strong resemblance to the poems of Henry Timrod, who composed verses about the Civil War and died in 1867. Lyrics from a previous album, “Love and Theft,” were similar to passages from the gangster novel “Confessions of a Yakuza,” by the Japanese writer Junichi Saga.

Paintings, lyrics, and a spitting image of Vincent…is this what they call “Pop Art”?