Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan has an all-new exhibition of his sketches, watercolors, and acrylic paintings of American landscapes going up at the Halcyon Gallery in London. To commemorate the show, titled "The Beaten Path," he wrote a fascinating essay for Vanity Fair that gives insight into his working methods and the meaning of his visual art. And while we were checking out some of the pieces in the exhibit, we noticed a very familiar sight: the most Instagrammed spot in Brooklyn!
Yes indeed, Robert Zimmerman has painted the Manhattan Bridge from DUMBO—that spot is located at Washington Street, between Plymouth and Front streets. You may be familiar with it, if you've ever tried walking around the cobblestone streets of DUMBO, or if you happened to catch our video earlier this year on the phenomenon.
Dylan described the concept behind the show: "The common theme of these works having something to do with the American landscape—how you see it while crisscrossing the land and seeing it for what it’s worth. Staying out of the mainstream and traveling the back roads, free-born style. I believe that the key to the future is in the remnants of the past. That you have to master the idioms of your own time before you can have any identity in the present tense. Your past begins the day you were born and to disregard it is cheating yourself of who you really are." We wouldn't call Washington Street a back road exactly, but considering that he's a guy out on the road for The Never-Ending Tour 150-200 days of the year (at least!), we get his drift.
Still, it's pretty weird to think about a mustachioed Dylan (perhaps in a classic blonde wig?) setting up his easel and brushes in the neighborhood—although based on his essay, it seems more likely that he (or one of his people) took a photo of the area and Dylan then used it to paint from the comforts of his Bob Dylan cage. Here's him describing his method:
Some of these works have much complexity of detail. Some are less demanding . . . in some cases my hand couldn’t do what my eye was perceiving. So I went to the camera-obscura method. The camera obscura was a primitive camera invented in the 1600s which projected an image upside down so the painter could work from it. This was a real camera, but the image was not printable. It could only be seen and filled in. Caravaggio used this in about all of his paintings and so did Van Eyck and Vermeer. These days you don’t have to go to all that trouble. You can use a real camera. I put a 58-mm 0.43x wide-angle conversion lens onto a used Nikon D3300 Af-p on quite a few paintings, Downtown Bank, Katz’s, Nathans, Russ & Daughters, Roy’s, Blue Line, among others, and was able to get the desired effect. If that didn’t work, I used a convex Plexiglass RCA 24 x 20 television screen that can be found in old junk shops and looked at the world through that. On Curry Road in Arizona, I used an old movie frame, and I did that on a couple of different paintings, too. In just as many others I drew it straight on. Topanga Ranch, Ice Cream Factory, Truck Stops, Flat Top Mt. Diner, and Del Rio Cantina. The method with the particular altered lens was used for fullness of effect. In a lot of the other cases, all I needed was a straight edge, compass, and a T square going on a case-by-case basis without abandoning tradition or adhering to any conventions or aesthetic doctrines.
The watercolors and acrylics done here purposely show little or no emotion, yet I would say they are not necessarily emotionally stringent. The attempt was made to represent reality and images as they are without idealizing them. My idea is to compose works that create stability, working with generalized, universal, and easily identifiable objects. Throughout, there is the attempt to depict scenes of life and inanimate life for their own sake (Ice Cream Shack, Arcade, Threatening Skies). Da Vinci paints a blurred picture—you see no lines but clouds that fade into one another with different color schemes. An opposing view would be Mondrian and Van Gogh with strict lines that define the volumes of space. In the middle somewhere would be Kandinsky and Rouault. And these paintings would probably fall into that category.
Did you catch the really interesting bit there? The names of three more of his pieces: Katz’s, Nathans, Russ & Daughters! Did Dylan really sit down for some smoked fish and paint Russ & Daughters? We've contacted the gallery to see if we can get a look at these pieces.
Read the rest of Dylan's essay here (including some memories of being out on the road with The Band in 1974), where you can also check out a 360-degree virtual tour of the exhibit.