Dylan’s Drawn Blank exhibition

Yesterday I attended the Bob Dylan – Drawn Blank exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery in London. This is a smart gallery near Bond Street; the exhibition is free but this is also a highly successful commercial enterprise.

I really enjoyed the exhibition and recommend it highly. It is open in London for a few more weeks; following which I gather there will be a world tour.

The origin of the pictures is unusual. Dylan drew some sketches while on tour (then again, he is always on tour) between 1989 and 1992. These were published by Random House under the title Drawn Blank. A museum curator called Ingrid Mössinger picked up on them in 2006 and got Dylan to agree to reworking them for an exhibition and for sale as originals and limited edition prints.

The original drawings were scanned, enlarged, and printed. Dylan then added colour by painting on them, mainly over a period of 8 months in 2007. Some, possibly most, of the drawings were painted several times; Dylan being Dylan, he used different colours each time.

This means that what you can buy is either an unique painted print, for sums of £25,000 and upwards, or a limited edition coloured print, for sums of around £2000 upwards. Note the “upwards”: the prices I saw were several times larger on many of the pictures. I also noticed that most of the paintings were already sold.

The exhibition is on several floors, with the paintings on the lower floors and the prints above. I spent a happy hour or two looking at them. I have no idea how they rate as art; I cannot separate them in my mind from the Bob Dylan I know as a singer and songwriter. The pictures have a certain naivety; but I found them rich in meaning as well.

He gets perspectives slightly wrong at times, but in a charming manner. For example, there is an image showing a timber porch and stairway beyond which you can see cars driving up a hill. They are like toy cars and one is at an especially odd angle, but it is quaint and humorous. Dylan seems interested in angles; he draws a car parallel to the banister of the stairway; we see pillars and telegraph poles leaning this way and that.

There are several images of train tracks which are highly evocative; there is also a rather sensual picture of two sisters which brings to mind Ballad in plain D “Of the two sisters, I loved the young…”

In a memorable quote on one of the walls Dylan recalls visiting an office and seeing a “blazing secretary”; who else would put together those two words? For me it evoked a woman with deep passions who keeps them constrained and hidden during her humdrum working day – though who knows if that was what Dylan meant?

If the prints had been a few hundred rather than a few thousand pounds I might have scraped together the money to buy one or two. As it was, I contented myself with the books. The hardback exhibition book is a well produced collection with nearly 300 pages in large format; at £39.95 it struck me as pretty good value. There is also a cheaper paperback which just has the prints. Being a fan, I bought one of each.

Is the rebel Dylan of the Sixties now totally owned by the establishment? I fear so; but it is a compliment as well.

8 thoughts on “Dylan’s Drawn Blank exhibition”

  1. Tim

    I have seen the exhibition myself and like you I enjoyed it.

    The hardback book which I bought is good value, but if you get the opportunity have a look at the book produced for the German exhibition. To me, the colours are more vibrant and do the work more justice.

    There has been some confusion on some message boards about what is available. I prefer to refer to what he drew between 1989 and 1992 for the original Drawn Blank book as the “Original Drawings”. The paintings and variations at the Halcyon, I would refer to as the “Original Paintings”. The limited editions are obviously prints.

    Best wishes


  2. Tim

    I saw the exhibition on Tuesday and enjoyed it more than I had expected, having found the ‘Drawn Blank’ series rather flat and a bit heavy handed. The addition of colour has made the drawings come to life and overcome the clumsiness of some of the drawings.

    I’m glad that the prints I liked most had all been sold, thus saving me any temptation! I also bought the book, which is a nice reminder of the exhibition.


  3. Melanie

    Are there any examples of the black and white original drawings on the Net? I’d like to see them, and I don’t have the 94 book unfortunately.


  4. I am no art critic. I have the Random House Drawn Blank Book of 1994. Comparing what I have seen online of the “colored in” scans and what is in the original book there are vast improvements in giving life to the works and cleaning up random pencil or charcoal marks. Nevertheless, in some areas there are loss of defined lines. In particular, the tree with water and boat scene is remarkably cleaned up. However the Armgonsett (sp)(Long Island )picture looses defined lines. All of it is interesting. I bought the print-Dad’s Restaurant, and made a comment elsewhere on line. I would love to no where that place is.

  5. One imagines that Dylan’s purpose with this art is not to carefully achieve a certain kind of ‘neatness’ and proficiency. I think it is safe to say that he approaches his art in the same way he approaches his writing and music: pure expression. The ‘clumsiness’ of some of the drawings, as noted by an earlier poster here is the measure of Dylan’s expression. I am sure if he really wanted to he could draw perfectly straight lines and perspectives. Clearly he is going for something far more raw and expressive than merely painting by numbers neatness. Check out the crazed perspectives in Tangled Up In Blue. No straight lines there, my friends!

    Mr Jinx

  6. Myself and a friend purchased a print of the painting above “Amagansett”. Having not even seen the exhibition, I fear the move is a bit risky but I liked the look of it and think it will be something nice to both have for the future and as a possible investment (I believe they are almost sold out now).

  7. I’m fortunate enough to have acquired an original….South Dakota Landscape. I wonder how much it’s worth now, 3 years on? Happy Birthday Mr D.

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