Bob Dylan is world famous as a musician, singer, writer and poet, as a social critic and cultural icon, and as a winner – among numerous other commendations – of a Nobel Prize in Literature.
As if such a mercurial collection of talents and accolades is not enough, this modern day American Renaissance Man is also increasingly now known as a talented visual artist and his latest exhibition – that is now open to the public at London’s Halcyon Gallery where it will run until Christmas – marks the first time this influential figure has mixed his music with his drawing.
The exhibition, entitled Mondo Scripto, features Dylan hand written lyrics for 60 of his most well-known songs as well as a pencil drawing, created by the man himself, to accompany each one.
Some of the pencil drawings are close literal interpretations of the song’s lyrics or titles while with others the interpretations are more ambiguous, personal or indeed whimsical. And with some of the songs, Dylan has chosen to heavily rewrite the lyrics. The chosen songs stretch from 1962 to 2006 and in entirety it makes for an absorbing collection that will have the army of so-called “Dylanologists,” searching long and deep, as ever, for masked artistic intent. For the rest, it’s an opportunity for an unusually up-close glimpse into the creative world of this quixotic yet often contradictory genius.
To add further intrigue, the exhibition also serves as a pre-cursor to a planned fully-immersive experiential retrospective that will meld Dylan’s music and visual art with his life story. The retrospective, that will open in 2019 at the Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai before touring the world, will, says Halcyon Gallery’s president, Paul Green, “re-create Dylan’s studio, the environments he has lived in, New York in the 60s…”
“It’s a retrospective on his life and a retrospective from an art point of view,” continues Green. “It will focus on his music, his lyrical writing, the people he has been associated with in his life and, very importantly, his visual art. We are going to physically create these immersive experiences that will allow people to go back to the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.”
“It is amazing how many know Dylan in China,” adds Green, “and there is also a fascination in China with New York in the 60s.”
After Shanghai, the retrospective will tour China and then Asia before heading into Europe and America. “It could be on the road for five years,” says Green.
Halcyon has been working with Dylan for 13 years and the gallery is used to the “huge volumes of people who want to come and visit the shows, from all over the world.” And Mondo Scripto will bring “tens of thousands” more through the doors of its Central London’s gallery.
Green says they are also now well understand Dylan’s creative method although the size, scale and ambition of the retrospective will bring new challenges. “It’s a huge project,” he says. “It’s not the normal work of a gallery.”
Dylan is well known for holding tight creative control on all his musical output but working with him on his visual art is an “enjoyable” experience says Green. “It’s a daily communicative process. Sometimes we visit and sometimes he comes here. A lot of his communication is done on the phone or is done through his office and it’s a totally collaborative process… we try different things, this might not work, that might work, and he is deeply involved.”
For the retrospective, that will involve building what in effect are life size sets of rooms, buildings and even streets, Dylan collaborates on the principal ideas, then is shown how they are going to look and then decides whether they will work for him or not.
“Everything Dylan does is his idea,” says Green, “and nothing goes out with his approval.”
Green argues the experiential nature of the Dylan retrospective is the future of visual arts. “Of course we have seen it before. With fashion and Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibition and with the Bowie and Pink Floyd exhibitions [all created by London’s V&A museum]. This more experiential type of experience is actually what museums want. I think we are done with the days of just putting art on a wall.”
Green says, aside from the retrospective, Dylan has already decided what the focus of his next exhibition will be but, more importantly, the more art he shows “more and more critics are saying incredible things” about its quality.
“There are over 6,000 biographies on Dylan, he has been on every magazine cover in the world and there is not a TV station that has not talked about him… Now the world is beginning to recognizes his importance as a post-war American painter.”
When you represent someone like Dylan,” concludes Green, it’s actually a real privilege. But you also have a responsibility to get the message out.”