I was lucky enough to be in Germany during this exhibit and see it live. I also purchased the book there and have reviewed it several times. It includes the 170 works displayed at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz from October 2007 to March 2008 and three thoughtful essays that examine the works from several perspectives.
Ninety-two of the works were based on drawings published in 1994 as Drawn Blank. The museum director, Ingrid Mossinger, saw some of his drawings in the fall of 2006 at New York's Morgan Library (Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966) and was so captivated that she sought out a copy of the out-of-print book. In the book, Dylan said that one day he wanted to turn these into larger color paintings. So, she made contact and asked if he'd like to exhibit them.
Somehow Dylan managed to have the drawings transferred to deckle-edged paper and paint them using watercolor and goaches. The result was 322 paintings produced in just eight months - eight months during which he also was touring! From these, 170 were selected for the exhibit.
The works include interiors (dressing rooms, hotel rooms, etc.), cityscapes, landscapes, still lifes, and portraits - all captured in drawings he made between 1989 and 1992 as he toured the world performing. For many of the drawings, there are multiple versions using different colors that give you varied impressions of the scene. Much like Dylan's reinterpretations of his songs, these alternative versions reflect different ways of viewing the work.
The essays also provoke different ways of thinking about the works. Frank Zollner, focusing on the cityscapes as seen through a window or door, suggests that these works indicate a "certain restlessness, as the simulated gaze is that of a seeker." He draws on Chronicles to illustrate how Dylan thinks of art and how his words often create word pictures. In his view the pictures reflect an internal restlessness and a calm outside world.
Diane Widmaier Picasso (granddaughter of Pablo Picasso) traces the influence of Norman Raeben, one of Dylan's art teachers, as well as the Cubists and German Expressionists known as The Bridge. She notes that, "Just as the meaning of certain Dylan songs is sometimes obscure, since his texts seek not to have a fixed sense but rather to describe sentiments, to develop impressions beyond words (acquiring, like an abstract painting, meanings which vary with the mood of the recipient, yet still preserving a strong identity), so too his drawings can be similarly understood as they also reflect work which purposely refuses to be 'honed'."
Jens Rosteck, focusing on Dylan as a "multi-talent," examines the stylistic turns Dylan has taken with his music and his artistic endeavors into literature, film, and painting. He describes him as a rare "universal artist" capable of synthesizing diverse art genres, comparing his approach to da Vinci, Goethe, and others.
I was struck by a sense of detachment, even isolation or loneliness, as I viewed the exhibit. Dylan, the most sensitive and keen observer of life I know, once again in another medium, challenges me to think about how we live in this world.
If the exhibit ever comes near you, I encourage you to see it. In the meantime, this book is a wonderful catalogue of the works of this great artist.