Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: Artist or art thief? Image: House of Hall/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan has an exhibition of paintings currently on display in New York. The paintings, which are billed as being “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape” from Dylan’s travels in Asia, are, according to some, actually stolen images from previously published photographs.

‘The Asian Series’

Bob Dylan’s work as a painter is less known than his music. Most fans only know his paintings through the covers of his albums “Self Portrait” and “Planet Waves.” The new exhibit, featuring 18 works, opened at New York’s Gagosian Gallery on Sept. 20. But the exhibit, titled “The Asia Series,” has drawn fire from fans and critics alike.

Comments on the Bob Dylan fan website, Expecting Rain, have pointed out similarities between Dylan’s painting “Trade,” depicting two Chinese men, and a 1948 photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Another, “Opium,” used as a cover for the exhibit’s catalog, appears to be copied from photographer Léon Busy. A full third of the 18 canvases appear to be images lifted from photos by Flickr contributor Okinawa Soba.

Painter added ‘tags’

Soba posted a comment on the Expecting Rain site:

“Prior to posting on Flickr, I had added an ‘artificial tag element’ to an image that was re-painted into Dylan’s work hanging there in the Gallery! All I could think was, ‘Oh my God. Dylan painted my fake line!’”

A statement from the Gagosian Gallery Monday defended Mr. Dylan’s work:

“While the composition of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings is based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images, the paintings’ vibrancy and freshness come from the colors and textures found in everyday scenes he observed during his travels.”

Journalist Michael Gray, on his blog Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, noted the resemblance of one of Dylan’s painting to a Dmitri Kessel photograph:

“The most striking thing is that Dylan has not merely used a photograph to inspire a painting: he has taken the photographer’s shot composition and copied it exactly. He hasn’t painted the group from any kind of different angle. … He’s replicated everything as closely as possible. That may be a game he’s playing with his followers, but it’s not a very imaginative approach to painting.”

Previous claims of plagiarism

This is not the first time Dylan has been accused of plagiarism. Music critic Scott Warmuth has pointed to certain passages in Dylan’s 2004 memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One,” that were disturbingly similar to ones by authors as diverse as Robert Greene and Archibald MacLeish. Others have noted the similarity of certain songs on the 2006 album “Modern Times” to the poetry of Henry Timrod.

Dylan speaks

In an interview for the Gagosian exhibition catalog, Dylan said:

“I paint mostly from real life. It has to start with that. Real people, real street scenes, behind the curtain scenes, live models, paintings, photographs, staged setups, architecture, grids, graphic design. Whatever it takes to make it work. What I’m trying to bring out in complex scenes, landscapes, or personality clashes, I do it in a lot of different ways. I have the cause and effect in mind from the beginning to the end. But it has to start with something tangible.”

Neither Dylan or his representatives have commented on the accusations.

Sources

New York Times: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/questions-raised-about-dylan-show-at-gagosian/
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/28/bob-dylans-gagosian-paintings-plagiarized_n_985004.html?ir=New+York
Expecting Rain: http://expectingrain.com/discussions/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=63507&p=999791#p999791

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