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Bob Dylan's artwork enters hallowed halls of National Portrait Gallery (despite being 'amalgamations' not portraits)


Bob Dylan may have earned himself a host of complimentary descriptions from “poet of our time” to “lyrical genius”. But the 110 million album-selling folk musician has been battling to be taken seriously as a visual artist for almost as long as he has been singing songs, and now 12 of his artworks are set to enter the National Portrait Gallery - the first time he has exhibited in a public museum in the UK.

Dylan’s 12 new works in pastel, which go on show as Face Value in September, are an unusual choice for the gallery as they not of subjects from British public life, or working portraits. They are instead an amalgamation of people and features that Dylan “has collected from life, memory and imagination”.

Art historian John Elderfield who worked to bring the exhibition to the National Portrait Gallery describes the pastel artworks as “products of the same extraordinary, inventive imagination, the same mind and eye, by the same story-telling artist.”

Dylan, 72, who has sketched and drawn since childhood and painted since the late 1960s,  has had major exhibitions elsewhere in the world, such as at the National Gallery of Denmark in 2010, at the Palazzo Reale, Milan in 2013 and two shows at New York’s Gagosian Gallery in 2012.

However, his first of Gagosian show was marred by controversy after Dylan’s The Asia Series (billed as a “visual journal” of his travels through Japan, China and Vietnam) led to accusations of plagiarism after the paintings turned out to bear striking similarities to existing photographs by Cartier Bresson and others.