Quintessentially American, diners and motels are a recurring motif throughout Bob Dylan’s artistic portfolio. As part of The Drawn Blank Series, Dad’s Restaurant embodies the highway scenes Dylan encountered as he travelled on tour between 1989 and 1992.

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Meaning & Analysis

A staple of any journey through the American Midwest, highway restaurants, roadside diners and drive-ins evoke nostalgia and the euphoric freedom of travel. As Bob Dylan toured America, it is almost inevitable that he stopped by at such a place; perhaps for a coffee, or a chat with locals.

Dad’s Restaurant, a snapshot of life lived on the roadside, is charmingly nondescript. The anonymous landscape could be on the way to anywhere; the final destination is unknown. Restaurants are a recurring motif in Dylan’s paintings, also appearing in graphics such as Flat Top Mt. Diner, Tennessee and Vine Street, West L.A. from The Beaten Path. In other works, he depicts highway motels.

The anonymous female character could be a waitress or a customer, waiting to meet someone or taking a moment to compose herself before disappearing along the highway in her pickup truck. Dylan leaves the viewer free to construct their own reality, with the loose lines and freehand perspective emphasising the fragility of the narrative.

Artistic variations include the time of day. In one version, the sky is dark and the restaurant lights are glowing, whereas in others the sky is red and ominous, or grey and clouded. Colour palettes sway between expressive and muted. Even the landscape changes: one version situates the restaurant on a grassy field, whilst in others it is a dirt track or parking lot. Like Dylan’s lyrics, his paintings are infinitely transformative.

Originally painted in watercolours and gouache, the works incorporate rough brushstrokes to give the impression of light. The signage features Dylan’s own handwriting, marking it out from the rest of the series.