The Questionable Authenticity of Bob Dylan's Paintings

bob dylan The Questionable Authenticity of Bob Dylan's PaintingsThe New York Times has called our attention to the dubious authenticity of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings in The Asia Series. As we noted in our review of the show, the press release calls the show “a visual journal of his travels” and comprises “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape.” Certain fans and so-called “Dylanologists” are now claiming that these “firsthand depictions” have a remarkable resemblance to certain photographs that, in the Times’ words, “are widely available and were not taken by Mr. Dylan.”

Having examined the show closely, these similarities are quite undeniable. Have a look here at Léon Busy’s photograph Vietnam (1915). Now look at Mr. Dylan’s own Opium. Everything, right down to the colors, the expression on the subject’s face, even many of the objects in the room, appears to be a dead ringer. There are other examples the Times points out, such as Mr. Dylan’s painting Trade and an iconic Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph taken in Beijing in 1948.

In our review of the exhibition, we had mentioned the possible inauthenticity of some of these images, particularly regarding his supposed presence in an opium den:

Presumably, Mr. Dylan was in this opium den, gazing at this young woman, approaching her but never arriving for the sake of his art. Whether or not that is true does not matter. For years, people believed Mr. Dylan grew up in a traveling circus and hoboed his way across the country in freight train boxcars because he lied to a publicist at Columbia Records back in the ’60s.

Dylan has lifted from his forebears in his music since the beginning. The Times notes the resemblance of certain lyrics on the 2006 album Modern Times to the poems of Henry Timrod, but borrowing and reappropriating was always part of his process. The lyrics, for instance, of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” are clearly derived from the Scottish border ballad, “Lord Randall.” Should we expect something different from his paintings? Is this influence, or mere stealing?

A press representative from Gagosian told the Times: “While the composition of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings are 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.”