National Portrait Gallery

Review: Bob Dylan, Face Value - The musician-turned-artist's portraits have a lyrical side

3.00

 

“The empty handed painter from your streets / Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets,” Bob Dylan sang on his 1965 hit "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue". While Dylan, now 72, is loved by millions for creating songs with such depth, anger, and poetry, he has also always been a visual artist, albeit a private one.

These 12 new portraits have been made with pastel, not paint, and they appear not crazy but narrative and raw. They are not brilliant, but they are not bad either. There is some noir-ish power to these grim faces, which look as though they have staggered into view after a bar fight or a shady pilgrimage across America – the rougher end of the travelling troubadour / street urchin myth that a young Dylan himself embodied.

The portraits are a departure for the gallery in the sense that their subjects are at least partly fictitious. They are “characters,” rather than sitters, named by the artist: Ivan Steinbeck, Nick Riley, Nina Felix. They are roughly rendered, with sketchy black outlines, small, sinister eyes, and skin tones made up of deep terracottas and disco pinks.

In addition to the names, there are strange, pun-like, sometimes clichéd titles that likewise suggest hardboiled violence. Ivan Steinbeck’s portrait is called Face Facts (2012). He looks like a stunned, drugged waiter, smart in a white shirt and black tie but seemingly reeling backwards, affronted by the viewer. His eyes are unfocused.

The image is one of the more arresting in the exhibition – it gives the impression of a man in middle-age who is trying his best to keep up a semblance of sanity, but failing. Life has gotten him in the end. While the portraits may seem naïve, they demand that the viewer imagine for herself what these characters’ histories might be. They are vague enough to make you fill in the gaps: therein lies their force.

A gallery assistant views part of Bob Dylan's new body of work which includes the singer/artist's impression of Nina Felix A gallery assistant views part of Bob Dylan's new body of work which includes the singer/artist's impression of Nina Felix Dylan exploits the fast, expressive possibilities of pastel, which was used most famously in Munch’s The Scream, and, more recently, the astonishing works of Paula Rego, who has described the medium as “like painting with your fingers.” There is a speed of touch in Dylan’s portraits, an aggression, which points to the tactile quality of pastel, the capacity of those sticks of colour to break and crumble against the page as you draw. Dylan does manage to convey a sense of emotional intensity and existential paranoia.

However, the swirling, smudged, and cloudy backgrounds, which appear to situate the characters in a fog or toxic cloud of grey dust, do not add anything. They make the portraits seem more sentimental and amateurish than they are. Because pastels are also associated with the tulips-on-a-table school of hobbyist art.

'Skip Sharpe' by Bob Dylan. Dylan painted to alleviate the boredom of touring 'Skip Sharpe' by Bob Dylan. Dylan painted to alleviate the boredom of touring Nothing wrong with that – but Dylan seems to be going for dread and angst, in the serious, Romantic sense. At times, the inner tensions of these faces seem akin to those of characters in a well-made video game: hyper-real and not nuanced enough.

The portraits are slightly larger than life, and hung so that they confront each other in a kind of pastel stand-off. There are three women out of the twelve, who seem equally warped by experience. Nina Felix / In Your Face (2012) is angry and witch-like, with a low-dipping top and scraggly hair. Her hunched posture recalls a Rego-esque perversity. The portrait is less successful due to the extra looseness of the execution.

While many rock-stars – Ronnie Wood, Marilyn Manson, Ringo Starr – pursue art on the side, these images are special. In places, they carry some of the lyrical mystery of Dylan’s wonderful music.

24 Aug – 5 Jan

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam