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
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?