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Bob Dylan, Bungalow by Lake, 2007
© 2007 Bob Dylan, courtesy Black Buffalo collection

Some of the work titles – Sunday Afternoon, House on Union Street, and Man on a Bridge – sound like titles for possible Bob Dylan songs. Indeed, the aquarelles possess the cool laconicness of classical blues tunes. Dylan's snapshots with their rushing lines and agitated black contours are reminiscent of works by the Brücke artists, by Munch, and by van Gogh. Sometimes they seem to exude the melancholy of Hopper's paintings. His Two Sisters, who are lounging on a bed next to each other, possess the lasciviousness of Beckmann's recumbent female figures. Dylan's aquarelles of empty, abandoned rooms are particularly impressive.

Bob Dylan, Lakeside Cabin, 2007
© 2007 Bob Dylan, courtesy Black Buffalo collection

He stayed at the Lakeside Cabin perhaps once during his tour. In this work, the blinds are down, the TV is on. Everything is portrayed in a cut way – the bunk bed, the window, the television, and the bureau on which it's standing. This fragmentation and the displaced perspective of the composition – the room almost seems to drift apart – lend the work a latent agitated mood. The impersonal ambience seems like a symbol for a restless loneliness in changing hotel rooms on the endless tour.

Bob Dylan, Woman with Beret, 2007
© 2007 Bob Dylan, courtesy Black Buffalo collection

In January, Todd Haynes' Dylan biography I'm Not There opens in German cinemas. To do justice to the many personalities of the enigmatic musical genius, Dylan is played by six actors. "His Bobness", as his fans like to call him, always was more than just a singer and songwriter even back at the beginning of the 1960s. He was the mouthpiece for an entire generation, which became increasingly politicized during the Cold War.

With his critical lyrics Dylan became a symbolic figure in the civil rights movement – a role, however, which he didn't like. The first of his many groundbreaking accomplishments followed quickly. Instead of strumming more protest songs, he started playing electric guitar and transformed into a rock star. But he didn't limit himself to singing and composing. He wrote the experimental novel Tarantula, made his acting debut in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and directed Renaldo and Clara, a surreal autobiographical feature film. In 1997, he was even nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature due to the quality of his sublimely ambiguous song lyrics.

Bob Dylan, Still life with peaches, 2007
© 2007 Bob Dylan, courtesy Black Buffalo collection

The former art student had drawn pictures since elementary school. In his autobiography, Chronicles, he discusses how he captured his surroundings in New York in the early 1960s: "What would I draw? Well, I guess I would start with whatever was at hand. I sat at the table, took out a pencil and paper and drew the typewriter, a crucifix, a rose, pencils and knives and pins, empty cigarette boxes. (…) Not that I thought that I was any great drawer, but I did feel like I was putting an orderliness to the chaos around…." In the late 60s he designed the cover of Music from Big Pink, The Band's legendary first LP. The somewhat awkward-looking picture shows the group playing music, with an elephant watching them. The naive, colorful scene calls to mind children's drawings. The picture of the three figures on the cover of his 1974 album Planet Waves, on the other hand, is clearly influenced by Expressionism and is more revealing of Dylan's artistic talent. The reason for this qualitative leap was perhaps the drawing lessons he had taken shortly beforehand from Norman Raeben in New York. The painter, the youngest son of the Yiddish-speaking writer Sholem Aleichem, combined in his works influences of the American Ashcan School and European Modernism and taught many students in his studio on the 11th floor of Carnegie Hall.

Bob Dylan, Train tracks, 2007
© 2007 Bob Dylan, courtesy Black Buffalo collection

At that time, Dylan found the style that characterizes his works to the present day. But as constant change and continual further development are – in addition to writing great songs – among the few constants in his life, his painting too may hold some surprises in the future. Musically, in any case, the singer recently again achieved great success. In August 2006, Dylan's 32nd studio album, Modern Times, attained the number one position on the U.S. charts, his first record to do so since 1976. A return to the top after three decades – no living musician had done this before. The last work on view at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz shows train tracks stretching to the horizon. The Never Ending Tour continues.

Achim Drucks

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