Take Bob Dylan art at face value




In describing his method of composing songs, Bob Dylan once said, “I write in chains of flashing images.”

People and places, situations and moments can pass by like a slide-show presentation, shaping a narrative in the listener’s mind.

Dylan says there is no link between his lyrics and his visual art.

But the folk-music legend definitely employs the same sensibility in both forms, as can be seen in “Face Value.”

An exhibit of 12 portraits of everyday people — non-celebrities — done in pastel, “Face Value” will go on exhibit at the Butler Institute of American Art on Sunday and will run through July 12. It will be on view in the Flora B. Giffuni Gallery, and an opening celebration will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. that day.

Dylan will not attend the event, but Gene Luntz, who represents the music giant’s visual art, will be on hand to discuss the work.

“Face Value” was created by Dylan at the request of the National Portrait Gallery in London, which premiered the show in 2013. That was the only time the exhibit had been shown until now.

Louis A. Zona, director of the Butler, has long been aware of Dylan’s artwork, but was moved to reach out to the singer only after speaking with John Mellencamp. The rock ’n’ roller is also an artist, and when his work was displayed at the Butler’s Trumbull branch two years ago, he spoke of having painting sessions with Dylan.

The faces in “Face Value” have a raw and rudimentary nature and leave much room for interpretation. In a printed interview that accompanied the London opening, Dylan distanced himself from any perceived attempt to instill a message in his art.

“It’s not my intention to make anybody look menacing or nonmenacing,” he said in response to a question about his desired response. “That’s only one person’s interpretation. These sketches are only pictures on paper. They can’t jump out at you. Do they make you feel uneasy? All right then, they make you feel uneasy. I don’t want to involve myself in this topic. I haven’t formed an opinion about any of them.”

Zona sees at least a parallel between Dylan’s music and his art, in that both manifest the characteristics of Expressionism.

“In his guitar playing, he doesn’t mind if you hear his fingers moving up and down the strings, or his hand hitting the wood of the guitar,” said Zona. “That kind of hand-made human aspect to his music does indeed parallel Expressionistic art.”

Zona classifies Dylan’s visual art in much the same way.

“Expressionistic artists hope to convey not only an emotional connection with the subject, but also their own emotion toward the subject,” said Zona. “It’s characterized by a certain emphasis on the rawness of the material. It’s also improvisational, and there is a certain spontaneity connected with it. Also, Expressionism is characterized by the use of raw colors. These are all strong elements [in Dylan’s visual art].”

Zona, by the way, has long been a fan of Dylan’s music. He cites the 1969 album “Nashville Skyline” as his favorite.

“Face Value” is just one of the solo art exhibitions by Dylan that have been displayed in recent years. Others include the Drawn Blank Series, shown in Germany and London (2007-08), and the Brazil Series, shown at the National Gallery of Denmark (2010).

The Asia Series and Revisionist Art: Thirty Works by Bob Dylan were presented at Gagosian Gallery in New York in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Also in 2013, a group of oil paintings by Dylan, titled The New Orleans Series, were exhibited at the Palazzo Reale in Milan.

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