“When it comes to painting, Bob Dylan may not be such an original. The 70-year-old singer has been accused of replicating several famous photographs in his new art show. The Asia Series includes paintings that seem like acrylic reproductions of images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dmitri Kessel and Léon Busy.
Dylan’s exhibition opened at Gagosian Gallery in New York on 20 September. The show is described as a “visual journal of [Dylan's] travels in Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea”, with “first-hand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape”. But within days of opening, the New York Times reports, visitors began remarking on the paintings’ similarities to well-known photos.
Fans on the Expecting Rain forum have pointed out that a Dylan painting called Opium is almost identical to Léon Busy’s 1915 photograph Indochine. Other fans and bloggers have found paintings based on shots by Kessel and Cartier-Bresson (compare here). A fan called Okinawa Soba claims six of the Asia Series’ 18 paintings were copied from photos in his Flickr stream, even incorporating the Photoshop edits Soba made to the images.
None of this would be controversial if Dylan had credited his source material. After all, one of his paintings is of a Life magazine cover. “While the composition of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings are based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images, the paintings’ vibrancy and freshness come from … everyday scenes he observed during his travels,” a Gagosian Gallery spokesperson told the New York Times. Still, the gallery has modified its description of the show. Instead of a “visual journal”, the Asia Series is now a “visual reflection” on Dylan’s travels. This controversy has spread to Dylan’s previous art shows: fans have already detected similar borrowings in the singer’s 2010 exhibition in Denmark.
Although this is the first time his paintings have provoked controversy, Dylan does have a history of borrowing lyrics from other writers. On 2006′s Modern Times, he “sampled” the Civil War poet Henry Timrod, and 2001′s Love and Theft borrows not just from Timrod, but from The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn and Junichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza.”
Image above by Michael Caulfield/WireImage