Singer/Songwriter Stick To Your Songs

If you had not enough with the debate about Bob Dylan literateur,
Ignacio Juliá opens a new one: Bob Dylan painter!


I’m translating here the gorgeous article I received via email thanks to one of the good and admirable friends I got in the Dylanite community, the well known writer, translator and articulist, Antonio J. Iriarte. Thanks to him for providing me the access to this priceless text and, of course, to Ignacio Juliá, author of the present writing about the pictorial work of the recent Nobel Prize for Literature. The original paper written in Spanish will be found through the following link here supplied:


Here’s my own translation:

Singer/Songwriter Stick To Your Songs

I have forbidden myself to make a comment, even if only on the fly, regarding the absurd controversy generated around the long-announced Nobel for Literature to Robert Allen Zimmerman. So much nonsense makes me mad as I imagined, deluded, that the imbecilic abyss between high and low culture was definitely forgotten. And I want to make clear that I take the guy by high culture. I will only allow myself an indisputable axiom: the word was prior to literature, it was prior to the invention of printing, and consequently telling stories should never be confined to the occlusive stop caps of a book. And one more thing, come on! How many voices of the last century were more verbally piercing, inspired, playful, socially cathartic, gleaming, fraudulent, in human terms, than those of the so-called Bob Dylan?

It seems that I have always been behind something, anything in motion – a car, a bird, a leaf carried by the wind – anything that would take me to a better place, an unknown land downstream.” That’s what the elusive Nobel writes as an accurate self-portrait in the catalog of his pictorial exhibition The Beaten Path. What … how dares he? In addition to be an award-winning literateur, the simple musician, the rogue singer/songwriter … does he paint pictures? And still he sculpts, welder in hand, metal artefacts from recycled parts! I leave such imaginary comments, typical of the intellectual minds, as I cross the threshold of the exquisite Halcyon Gallery in London’s Mayfair. And I come across a monographic sample that is pure Dylan: pictures of ingenuous chromaticism capturing the secondary landscapes of his own America, the one he has been cruising tirelessly during the Never Ending Tour.

A certain America is visualized while strolling through the very noble rooms of the gallery, neat and empty except for the walls where they hang from large paintings to manageable sketches. It’s an America that the artist wanted to be as real as the one that survives in memory. “Your past begins the day you are born and not taking it into account is to deceive yourself about who you really are,” reflects Bob. Hence he decided, in that naturalistic appearance of his paintings, to hide what did not interest him, which is the modern and the advertising, that ugly commercial world. The framing of a hot dog stand on Coney Island completely omits skyscrapers that “litter the sky” just two blocks away. And the modest fishery in San Francisco’s Chinatown erases everything that came after that Victorian-style neighborhood was built. “These cold and gigantic structures are meaningless to me in the world that I see or choose to see, the world of which I am a part,” he confesses.


The silent intention of he who spent two years sketching and painting these transitory natures was to contradict the modern world. Facing complex details that his hands could not reproduce the same way as his gaze transmitted to him, he applied the ‘dark camera’ method. He did it using an old Nikon with a wide-angle or else the screen of a small spoiled television. He paints with watercolors and acrylics because of its meager emotional load, although he does not see these materials as necessarily astringent in that sense. He represents reality without idealizing it, working with either universal or easily recognizable objects, framing them in a certain stability. It is necessary to depersonalize the portrayed subject, to strip it of any illusion, looking for common places located in a rationally defined space. Sometimes the focal point is centered, others it is placed in the distance. He longed to create images that could not be misinterpreted, that curse that still bears on him.

Those who accuse him of intrusism should know that he acted as painter and sculptor since the early sixties. There is the front cover of “Music from Big Pink”, debut of The Band, as first glance. The meaningful simplicity of these images – “roads, huts, jetties, cars, streets, marshes, railways, bridges, motels, bus stops, power lines, farms, theater marquees, churches, signs, etc.,” he enumerates – are the work of a curious and honest observer, still amazed by life, its truths and mysteries. What he sees connects with his inner vision of the big country, and it will be intuited by those who live immersed in his music. But what is important – another of his literary traits – is how these paintings neutralize reality, its strangeness. Endless Highway, his largest oil to date, finally symbolizes the endless road Dylan undertook.

“Endless Highway,” painting by Bob Dylan

The Beaten Path represents a different theme from the everyday imagery of consumer culture,” he says. “There is nothing to suggest that these paintings have been inspired by the texts of Sigmund Freud or that are based on the mental images that happen in the dreams, there are no fantastic worlds, religious mysticisms or ambiguous thematic. It is not necessary for the viewer to ask himself in front of these pictures if they are real or imagined objects. If anyone visits the place where that image exists, he or she will see the same thing. This is what unites us.

We have forgotten that the true artist is such (an artist) in any project he may undertake. Dylan, who always seemed embarrassed by his abilities and therefore refused to discuss them with anyone or to charge them with presumption, is one of those chosen to transform a press conference into a fight half way between pugilist and Dadaist whose puns continue to be quoted half a century later; Make of a recital a kind of cosmic riddle in which one has to discover what he is really singing, questioning an entire industrial rock mythology; Or end folded to the order of a gallery owner to start painting pictures that redefine the canon of the Americana challenging with impressionist luminosity to the very Hopper.

It’s good that the good man did not heed the call of the Stockholm syndrome, that he “was not there,” as in the famous song. In the end, he did not even show up to pick it up. He must have had to be at work in his workshop. Fleeing forward. There is no other way.

Ignacio Juliá


The Hypnotist Collector

8 thoughts on “Singer/Songwriter Stick To Your Songs

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