Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bob Dylan's New Orleans at NOMA

The British newspaper, The Guardian, recently called Bob Dylan "not only the Keats of rock’n’roll but the Lucian Freud as well." Nice of them to compare his canvases to their top painter, but then it said: "Ok, we would not be looking at them if he were not famous... But he does seem very serious about his art." Despite British snark and some erratic brushwork, they do complement the psycho-poetic insights of his songs, and this New Orleans Series reflects the mystique of a city that has fascinated him for over 50 years. His view is unique, with scenes that evoke vintage film noir and psychological quirks from the subconscious ether. In Masked Ball, top, a man in a tuxedo and a mask  dances with a vulnerable looking woman and, sure enough, their charged, mottled tones really do recall Lucian Freud even if the styling suggests a Nola version of John Huston's 1951 murder mystery movie, The Maltese Falcon. In true Dylan fashion, much is familiar but the ambiguities and nuances can seem endless. It may also be noteworthy that Dylan these days sports a pencil-thin mustache not unlike the one in the picture, causing him to resemble a retired tango instructor or ghostly riverboat gambler.

In Rescue Team, above, a darkly dynamic kind of a guy in a fedora carries an unconscious femme fatale in his arms, and it is hard to say if it is a rescue or an abduction. More psychically fraught ambiguities appear in Rope, left, as a voluptuous nude unwinds, literally, from a length of rope trussed around her torso. She looks almost too relaxed to be making an escape, so maybe it is something more, um, recreational? Girl Scout knots, anyone? Dance Hall is a study in brooding pathos, but some French Quarter patio scenes could have come straight from Jackson Square, and as always Dylan defies easy interpretation. In his lushly eloquent memoir, Chronicles, he describes New Orleans as “one very long poem,” an ongoing epic that also defies interpretation. The New Orleans Series: Paintings by Bob Dylan, Through July 31, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.