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
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
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.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific