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Bob Dylan Paintings Under Fire for Unoriginality

Bob Dylan Feis Festival London - P 2011
Olivia Harris/AFP/Getty Images

The legendary musician’s recent art collection, on display at New York’s Gagosian Gallery, has drawn criticism for its striking similarities to several well-known photographs.

New York’s Gagosian Gallery was forced to do some backtracking when it comes to their display of legendary singer Bob Dylan’s not-so-original paintings.

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An exhibit of Dylan’s works, titled “The Asia Series,” has come under scrutiny after its Sept. 20 debut. The Dylan fan site Expecting Rain has been credited with publicizing an in-depth discussion regarding striking similarities between Dylan’s art and several well-known photographs.
 
The New York Times addressed said similarities, calling into question the gallery’s description of Dylan’s exposition as “a visual journal” of his travels “in Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea,” with “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape.”
 
Drawing inspiration from older works is hardly a crime, though it’s Dylan’s lack of attribution that is making waves.

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“I paint mostly from real life,” the singer claimed. “It has to start with that. Real people, real street scenes, behind the curtains scenes, live models, paintings, photographs, staged setups, architecture, grids, graphic design. Whatever it takes to make it work.”
 
Among the similarities discussed are Dylan’s painting “Trade” with a 1948 Henri Cartier-Bresson photo, as well as Dylan’s “Opium” with Leon Busy’s “Woman Smoking Opium” from the early 20th Century.
 
Perhaps the most damning evidence lies in Flickr user Okinawa Soba, who, according to the Huffington Post, claims that Dylan incorporated one of the Photoshop edits used by Soba in his original image.

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On Monday, a representative for the gallery said in a statement: “While the composition of some of Bob Dylan’s paintings is based on a variety of sources, including archival, historic images, the paintings’ vibrancy and freshness come from the colors and textures found in everyday scenes he observed during his travels.”
 
The gallery now refers to Dylan’s exhibition as a “visual reflection” rather than “visual journal.”