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Bob Dylan Accused of Painting Plagiarism

Critics say new images are copied from famous photographs

September 28, 2011 9:10 AM ET
halycon london bob dylan painting
A visitor to the Halycon Gallery in London views a painting by Bob Dylan.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Halcyon Gallery

The paintings in Bob Dylan's "The Asia Series," which are currently on display at the Gagosian Gallery in Manhattan, have come under fire for their resemblance to widely available pre-existing photographs. The series of paintings, which are said to part of a "visual journal" made by the singer during his travels through Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea, have been compared to famous photos by well-known photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Léon Busy.

"The most striking thing is that Dylan has not merely used a photograph to inspire a painting: he has taken the photographer’s shot composition and copied it exactly," wrote Dylan critic Michael Gray in a post on his blog, Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. "He’s replicated everything as closely as possible. That may be a (very self-enriching) game he’s playing with his followers, but it’s not a very imaginative approach to painting. It may not be plagiarism but it’s surely copying rather a lot."

Photos: The Artwork of Bob Dylan
While some fans in the Dylan-centric online community Expecting Rain have voiced concern about the songwriter's highly derivative visual art, others have argued that "quotation" is a part of the tradition of art. Nevertheless, it's a bit difficult to reconcile this notion with the fact that the work has been presented as coming from the rock legend's "firsthand" experiences abroad.

Photos: The Evolution of Bob Dylan
Dylan has, in his way, been forthcoming about using photographs in his paintings. In a statement in the exhibition's catalog, the singer says that he paints "mostly from real life. It has to start with that. Real people, real street scenes, behind the curtain scenes, live models, paintings, photographs, staged setups, architecture, grids, graphic design. Whatever it takes to make it work."

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