Dylan's Iconic Imagery

Dylan's large scale acrylic painting of Monument Valley, Arizona is catching the public's eye.
Dylan's large scale acrylic painting of Monument Valley, Arizona is catching the public's eye.

Dylan's Masterpiece??

Recently, 2022 to be exact, Bob Dylan put up a large display of his paintings at the Frost Art Museum in Miami, Florida. For most people, this story would end when their show came down, but Bob Dylan is not part of that large subset, called "most people"'. For starters, Dylan is the recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, not to mention his lifelong career as a prolific and highly successful musician and songwriter. This may partially explain why images taken from his Miami retrospective keep turning up in the online media. One picture in particular seems to be well on its way to finding a permanent home in the American collective subconscious. In case you haven't seen it, the work on canvas consists of a blue Cadillac heading down a lonesome highway towards Monument Valley in Arizona,

For those of you, who are unaware of the scene I'm talking about, here it is, pictured below. It is a large acrylic on canvas triptych that features a classic American automobile (Cadillac ??) heading down an empty highway towards one of America's great natural icons, Monument Valley. The original painting sold for a hefty 3.5 million dollars, giving at least some credence to the lasting quality of Dylan's vision.

Not bad for a college dropout.

Starting Out Small

Bob Dylan first displayed his artistic talents (or lack thereof) on his 1970 Self-Portrait album, which just happened to feature a rude, crude and primitive likeness of the famed Bard. You can check out the image below, if you so desire; and despite all its technical flaws, there is certain honesty that comes through in this vague auto-biographical likeness.

So the question remains, how did Dylan get from this bizarre self-portrait to selling a major work on canvas that measures twelve by eight feet and retailed at three and a half million.

One consideration, for sure, is time. Keep in mind it's been just over fifty years from the release of his self-portrait to the opening of the Miami museum show, a retrospective that included just shy of a two hundred paintings and drawings. That's plenty of time to develop one's craft, especially when financial worries are minimal and presumably that artist can devote plenty of hours to his craft.

Also of importance is effort. Though Dylan may not have chosen the most difficult path to express his artistic talents (i.e. a 12' X 8' watercolor would be most impressive), his interest in his subject, the byroads of America, seems genuine and renders itself well to a photographic-type vision. The images of the cheap motels and by-passed eateries are an important recording from a bygone era. They seem to stand up well over time, but still, I would have enjoyed seeing the Miami show in person instead of online. Overall, the American public spends way too much time looking at reproductions of art and seldom ventures into those hallowed exhibition halls to eyeball the real thing.

"When I Paint My Masterpiece"

"The Band" performs "When I Paint My Masterpiece" in Madison Square Gardens at Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary in 1992.

The Band made the song famous, but Dylan put together the words and the music. Even though most of the members of the Band have died, Dylan still lives on, occasionally doing a live performance, where a modern rendition of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" often makes it way onto the playlist. Considering Dylan's recent success with the visual arts, the song seems like some sort of strange foreboding or even "fortune telling", if you don't mind the negative inferences.

However, on deeper reflection, this catchy little tune most likely reflects on the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the times") of the late sixties. The "Paint My Masterpiece" line (at least for me) refers to a specific Bohemian lifestyle and the overall song alludes to the ability and means to travel around Old Europe, while America was plagued by an unpopular war in Southeast Asia. And of course, there is always the possibility that these experiences might lead to an enduring poem or challenging lyrics to a popular song.