It was in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village in New York City that Bob Dylan first made a name for himself as a musician and performer. Taken from The Drawn Blank Series, Sidewalk Café could draw inspiration from Dylan’s early years.
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As an upcoming songwriter and musician, Bob Dylan moved to New York in 1961 at the age of 19 to join the American folk music revival in Greenwich Village. The bustling coffee house scene in Lower Manhattan included the iconic Gaslight Cafe and Cafe Wha?, where artists like Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen would later perform.
Just two years later, in 1963, Dylan had sold out Carnegie Hall. Throughout the 1960s, Dylan sketched and painted, before taking art classes with the American painter Norman Raeben in 1974. Between 1989 and 1992, whilst on tour in America, Europe and Asia, he created the sketches that would later form The Drawn Blank Series.
The street scene seen in Sidewalk Café could be influenced by his time in Greenwich Village, as well as his later travels through America and beyond. The café motif also appears in Dylan’s lyrics. In Watching The River Flow, Dylan sings, “Daylight sneakin’ through the window / And I’m still in this all-night café”, while a café also appears in Sign Language.
In 2021, Dylan said of his work: “I don’t really associate them with any particular time or place or state of mind, but view them as part of a long arc; a continuing of the way our perceptions are shaped and altered by life.”
This shifting perception can be seen in the variations between each of the iterations. Some versions are warm and summery, whilst others are set at night. In some, the potted foliage is green, in others red, and in others still there is a mixture of blooms. One variation depicts a rain-soaked road and glistening reflections. Like many of Dylan’s works, the perspective is slightly distorted, with roads and buildings slightly too curved to feel entirely realistic.