Last Friday evening, viewing a wonderful set of limited edition prints from the Drawn Blank series at a local gallery, glass of champagne in hand, I had a kind of satori. I realised the Dylan song with the greatest point of connection to his work as an artist, and the key to understanding that work, is the little-performed Three Angels from 1970’s New Morning. Comically surreal, Dylan paints a song-picture of three angels hovering above the world, playing on their horns, unseen and unheard by those below.
The forceful point of connection is the way Dylan describes that world:
The wildest cat from Montana passes by in a flash,
Then a lady in a bright orange dress,
One U-Haul trailer, a truck with no wheels,
The Tenth Avenue bus going west.
A man with a badge skips by,
Three fellas crawlin’ on their way back to work…
As Dylan acknowledges himself in a recent Times interview: “It’s not like the drawings were revolutionary. They weren’t going to change anyone’s way of thinking.” In terms of technique you can see the influence of figures like Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Hopper and others: they do not take art forward in any sense. But if they don’t change anyone’s way of thinking, they certainly offer the viewer a vivid confirmation of, and extended insight into, Bob Dylan’s vision and way of thinking.
By the way, the exhibition catalogue is well worth buying, though steep in price. It offers a set of full-colour plates of the series, plus two really perceptive essays by Andrew Motion and Andrew Graham-Dixon. Mind you, these plates can’t capture the startling colours of the originals. They are so good , so full of life, who needs the three angels anyway?