Bob Dylan vs. His Art Sources: How Singer’s Paintings Compare With Originals

How six of the singer’s paintings compare with the photographs that inspired them. By Blake Gopnik.

Left: Gagosian; Right: Dmitri Kessel, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Left: Gagosian; Right: Dmitri Kessel, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Over the last few days, it has become clear that The Asian Series, a show of paintings by Bob Dylan at Gagosian Gallery in New York, has its roots in photographs taken by others. Blake Gopnik pairs six Dylan paintings and their sources.

Left: Gagosian; Right: Dmitri Kessel, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Bob Dylan’s painting called The Game, next to the black-and-white photo it’s based on. Oil paints turn a document into “art”—which could help us give it a more critical viewing.

Left: Gagosian; Right: Musée Albert Kahn

Dylan’s painting, Opium, and the 100-year-old photo it is based on, by Leon Busy, taken in Vietnam. Could it be that the painting, made so recently—and pretending to be a real observation—gives a sense that old clichés are alive and well? It’s not that such opium dens still exist, but that we still have them in our minds.

Left: Gagosian; Right: Okinawa Soba / Flickr

Monk, executed in oils by Dylan, and the hand-colored photo it was based on. Purely on the two pieces’ own terms, the photo actually may be the more striking image.

Left: Gagosian Right: Bruce Gilden / Magnum

Dylan’s Big Brother, and a quite recent photo by Bruce Gilden that is its source. It seems obvious that Dylan’s image has a very photographic composition. It is hard to imagine simply viewing the world at this angle.

Left: Gagosian; Right: Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum

Dylan’s Trade and the photograph that gave birth to it, by Henri Cartier-Bresson.  When artists borrow from such a famous source, they are normally flagging their work as a deliberate appropriation.

Left: Gagosian Right: Okinawa Soba / Flickr

Dylan’s Emperor and a photograph from circa 1900 of Manchu newlyweds. By mixing such a vintage scene with much more recent imagery, the series gives viewers a sense that it is aggregating clichés—deliberately?