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Review: The New Orleans Series

Bob Dylan’s film noir-inspired paintings romanticize New Orleans.



The British newspaper The Guardian recently called Bob Dylan "not only the Keats of rock 'n' roll but the Lucian Freud as well." It was nice to compare his canvases to Britain's top painter, but then it said: "OK, we would not be looking at them if he were not famous ... but he does seem very serious about his art." Despite British snark and occasional erratic brushwork, the paintings do visually complement the psycho-poetic insights of Dylan's songs, and this New Orleans Series reflects the mystique of a city that has fascinated him for more than 50 years. His view is unique, with scenes that evoke vintage film noir and psychological quirks straight from the ether of the subconscious. In Masked Ball (pictured), a man in a tuxedo and mask dances with a vulnerable-looking woman and, sure enough, their charged, mottled tones do recall Freud even if the styling suggests a New Orleans version of John Huston's 1941 movie, The Maltese Falcon. In true Dylan fashion, much is familiar but the ambiguities and nuances seem endless. It also may be noteworthy that Dylan currently sports a pencil-thin mustache not unlike the one in the picture, causing him to resemble a retired tango instructor or ghostly riverboat gambler.

  In Rescue Team, a darkly dynamic man in a fedora carries an unconscious femme fatale in his arms, and it is hard to say if it is a rescue or an abduction. More psychically fraught ambiguities appear in Rope, as a voluptuous nude woman unwinds, literally, from a length of rope trussed around her torso. She looks almost too relaxed to be making an escape, so could it be something more recreational? Girl Scout knots, anyone? Some traditional French Quarter patio scenes could have come straight from Jackson Square, and as always, Dylan defies interpretation. In his lushly eloquent memoir, Chronicles, he describes New Orleans as "one very long poem," an ongoing epic that also defies interpretation.

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