Bob Dylan pastel portraits at Butler

‘I’ve done sketching most of my life. In notebooks, on napkins, on rough paper or cardboard, plates and coffee pots … basically when there’s something to look at – so it’s not new for me. As to exhibiting it …’ — Bob Dylan

Bob DylanAn exhibition of pastel portraits by Bob Dylan will open May 17, 2015 at the Butler Institute of American Art and remain on view until July 12, 2015.

An intriguing collection of portraits by the internationally acclaimed icon of American music produced for the National Portrait Gallery, London in September 2013.

Bob Dylan is one of America’s most influential and important cultural figures. With over 500 songs, 46 albums and an astonishing 110 million record sales to his name, Dylan, now in his early seventies, is turning increasingly to another mode of artistic expression; one that has occupied him throughout his life, but for which he is much less well known.

Bob DylanAlthough Dylan has sketched and drawn since childhood and painted since the late 1960s, only relatively recently has he begun to exhibit his artworks. The twelve works collected in this beautifully produced volume represent his latest foray into portraiture. In an illuminating essay and a rare interview with Bob Dylan, curator and art historian John Elderfield explores the story behind these works and Dylan’s approach to his art. Previously, Elderfield has acknowledged that while it may be unsettling when an artist does not adhere to the thing for which we have come to admire him most, Dylan has often asked his audience to get over the discomfort of his changing: ‘And don’t speak too soon / For the wheel’s still in spin …’ For Elderfield, Dylan’s paintings, like his songs, are ‘products of the same extraordinary, inventive imagination, the same mind and eye, by the same story-telling artist, for whom showing and telling – the temporal and the spatial, the verbal and the visual – are not easily separated.’
The folk music icon created the portraits expressly for the London exhibit. They depict everyday citizens, and not famous or identifiable people.

Bob DylanIn an interview given by Dylan for the London exhibition, the artist was intentionally vague on the identity of the subjects.

Louis A. Zona, director of the Butler, said he does not expect Dylan will come to the Butler for the exhibition. The musician was last in Youngstown in August 2012 for a concert at Covelli Centre.

The Butler has a reputation for exhibiting artwork by famous actors and musicians. Recent years have brought exhibitions by Peter Falk, Tony Bennett, Jessica Lange, Ronnie Wood, Kim Novak and John Mellencamp.

It is the latter who played a role in landing the Dylan exhibit.