Richard Prince On Bob Dylan’s Paintings: ‘They’re More Acoustic Than Electric’

Whether or not you had the opportunity to see the recent exhibition of paintings by Bob Dylan at Gagosian Gallery in New York and regardless of your opinions of the famed singer-songwriter’s way with acrylics or choice of source material, treat yourself to Richard Prince’s wonderfully Joycean take on the matter. The artist penned an essay for the exhibition catalogue, and it has been published on the New York Review of Books’ blog for all to enjoy. Prince proves that he can wield a simile as deftly as he does an appropriated cowboy: He compares one of Dylan’s canvases to Cézanne’s Bathers, works he admires in part because “The paint is nice and thin, like it’s been applied directly on the wall of a Roman emperor’s home,” and likens getting to Dylan’s Los Angeles studio to “that scene in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta parks his car outside a nightclub…I think it’s Copacabana…and goes in a side entrance, down a hall past a lazy-ass watchman, into the kitchen, through another hallway, and out into the main room and ends up right next to the maître d’, who then ignores the people in line waiting to get in and hugs and kisses Ray and his girlfriend and shows them right down in front of the stage, where a small table, two chairs, and a plug-in lamp suddenly, miraculously, appear.” And that’s just the opening paragraph. Before assessing the works (“I think Dylan’s paintings are good paintings. They’re workmanlike and they do their job.”), Prince offers this smashing description of Dylan’s studio, or at least what he believes to have been Dylan’s studio:

It didn’t look like any artist’s studio I’d ever been in. It was on the second floor and was around five hundred square feet and furnished with furniture that looked like it had been found on the street. There was a small Casio keyboard on a keyboard stand. There was a store-bought easel and a carton of art supplies on the floor. The carton was one of those plastic containers the USPS holds mail in. I’m not sure what was on the wall. I think there was a gold record or a plaque that said something about a record industry milestone. There was a small balcony with a couple of wrought-iron chairs and a table. It was a mismatched set. Except for the art supplies, there wasn’t a single thing in this room that would tell someone, “Art is made here.” It was kind of astounding. It was like Dylan was painting in a witness protection program.