Long before Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel prize in literature, pundits used to talk about “Dylan versus Keats”, as if you had to choose, and as if Dylan’s poetic transformations of folk song are really so different from what John Keats does in his eerie ballad La Belle Dame sans Merci.
When it comes to Dylan’s art, the dice fall differently. Dylan versus John Constable would make no sense, for when it comes to drawing and painting it’s as plain as a Brooklyn ice cream parlour that Bob Dylan is a bluff old traditionalist.
He draws and paints what he sees, although in his latest, impressive show at London’s Halcyon Gallery you feel that what he sees is always subtly merging with an America in his mind. Sometimes that inner America seeps out. A crowd of midwesterners gawping at a fairground sideshow that offers a peep into a “Harem” – surely this has come from Dylan’s dreams? Yet most of the time, with true observation and patient work, he records reality in all its strangeness.