Bob Dylan may be best known for his gravelly voice and poetic lyrics, but the singer-songwriter has also been producing fine art throughout his life. Since his first gallery exhibition, The Drawn Blank Series, went on sale in 2008, the art of Bob Dylan has been a talking point in the art world & beyond...
Dylan’s paintings, sketches and prints may be less popular than his award-winning music, but they’re by no means worth disregarding. With some paintings from his earliest collection selling for tens of thousands of dollars, and limited-edition prints going for thousands, Dylan’s art — each featuring the rarity that is his signature —clearly carries some weight in the market.
In this comprehensive guide, we will advise on how to start your own Bob Dylan art collection, what to look for in a Dylan artwork, and whether Bob Dylan art is a good investment.
Bob Dylan has been sketching since the early 1960s, although his work was only shown to the public and made available to buy in 2008. Dylan tends to take on different artistic styles in each of his series, which are generally inspired by the countries and cities he has travelled through whilst on tour. His Beaten Path collection, for example, saw him replicate the American heartlands in broad swaths of watercolour and acrylic on canvas, whilst the more recent Mondo Scripto series features graphite illustrations based on and accompanying his own lyrics.
“I don’t really associate them with any particular time or place or state of mind,” explained Dylan, “but view them as part of a long arc…One can be profoundly influenced by events in Morretes, Brazil, as they can be by the man who sells El Pais in Madrid.”
Since his first exhibition, Dylan has been producing art more and more prolifically, especially as the pandemic brought his constant touring to a sudden halt. Just like his music, Bob Dylan’s art is inspired by a wide range of sources — with pieces drawing on trends from French Impressionism, German Expressionism, surrealism, cubism and even Film Noir-esque aesthetics.
Here is a brief overview of Dylan’s most influential collections.
Produced between 1989-1992, the Drawn Blank sketches were originally published in book form in 1994. Later released in a 2008 exhibition of the same name, in which a single sketch was reimagined as a brilliantly or delicately coloured set, each with different elements emphasised, the pieces were the first of Dylan’s work to be made available for purchase to the public.
The sketches of landscapes, still lifes, nudes and hotel scenes became, for Dylan, a method of relaxation and mental refocusing whilst on tour through America, Europe and Asia. Loosely painted in strokes of gouache and watercolour, works from this collection are some of Dylan’s most popular, including Train Tracks — the four-piece portfolio of which sold on release for £40,000 — as well as Women in Red Lion Pub and The Man On A Bridge, which both sold for £20,000 each.
Inspired by recreating some images from the Drawn Blank series in acrylic for a 2010 exhibition in Turin, Italy, the Brazil Series was created in an intensive burst of creative activity, which saw Dylan quickly create a set of 50 paintings, chronicling his time spent visiting Brazil.
The collection reflected Dylan’s considerable artistic development since his sketches of the early 90s, with bright country and cityscapes both more detailed, colourful, and featuring a range of characters such as musicians, card players and troublemakers.
Favela Villa Broncos, in its browns and ochres, shows a people-less, yet teeming city of tightly packed shacks and houses, whilst Boxing Gym, in a similar impressionist style and darker hues, is a slightly less detailed portrait of a tensed and ready boxer.
Dylan’s 2011 collection The Asia Series features 18 works inspired by the artist’s time in China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea.
Painted from photographs in muted colours and light brushstrokes, the images reflect the clear influence of other famous artists, including Manet and Gauguin. Controversially, some images were later revealed to be direct and uncredited copies of existing photographs, including one taken from a Life cover shoot, and another by prominent photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Dylan’s Revisionist Art series opened in 2012 to dismal reviews. The collection, made up of 30 silkscreen works, marked a departure from Dylan’s previous work, satirising public figures and celebrities in the format of famous magazine covers. Taking vintage editions of Time, Life, Rolling Stone and Playboy, amongst other lesser known publications, Dylan tinkered with images, cover lines and dates to create humorous, if slightly simplistic, large-scale collages.
The New Orleans series, a set of 23 oil-on-canvas works, are Dylan’s way of paying homage to the birthplace of jazz and blues, a city for which he has a well known soft-spot. As Dylan wrote in Chronicles, the first volume of his autobiography, “the city is one very long poem.”
Featuring traditional French Quarter courtyards, atmospheric 1940s scenes and decadent nudes, the collection is painted in a subdued colour palette and uniquely theatrical style.
Raised in an area of Minnesota dubbed the ‘Iron Range’, Dylan spent his childhood surrounded by industry. It is these childhood memories that influenced and inspired Dylan’s Mood Swings series–a collection of gates welded from scrap metal, adorned with decorative cogs and wheels, and car doors, some smashed up and others riddled with bullet holes, entitled Gangster Doors.
“Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow,” commented Dylan. “They can shut you out or shut you in and in some ways, there is no difference.”
Dylan’s Face Value series features 12 portraits–described as amalgamations of the real, the copied, and the imagined–sketched in rough pastel lines, and subdued brown hues. Each piece is named after the sitter, as well as containing some play on the word ‘face’, including Face the Music: Ray Bridges and Face Facts: Ivan Steinbeck.
Picturing a range of Americana scenes — from desolate motels to sunset skies and corner diners, Dylan’s Beaten Path collection sought to capture an honest portrayal of the country Dylan spent so many years of his life traversing whilst on tour.
Containing works in a range of mediums, including graphite sketches, watercolours and acrylics, the series represents Dylan’s effort to find beauty in the overlooked, highlighting the scenes that form the backdrop of daily life for so many Americans.
The collection’s common theme, commented Dylan, is its effort to stay “out of the mainstream and travel the back roads, free-born style”.
The 2018 exhibition Mondo Scripto featured a selection of Dylan’s 60 most iconic songs, hand-written in pen on paper and illustrated in graphite. The new images, Dylan explained, “come straight from the songs”, and are often word-for-word depictions of lyrics.
Subterranean Homesick Blues, for example, translates “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine” literally, picturing a man in the kitchen of a basement apartment, mixing up a pot of some unknown substance. The illustration of the Like a Rolling Stone lyric “Napoleon in rags” is similarly shown beside a stately drawing of Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
In some pieces, Dylan utilised the project as an opportunity to edit his original lyrics — with songs If You See Her, Say Hello, Gotta Serve Somebody, and When I Paint My Masterpiece seeing significant changes.
Dylan’s newest collection of paintings featured 40 large scale painted canvases, each inspired by stills from famous films, including Loveless (1981) and Shaft (1971). The title is a reference to a cinematic technique, whereby narrative is communicated through the foreground, middle and background, rather than by focussing on one visual plane over another.
The collection follows a similar subject to Dylan’s previous Beaten Path series, full of scenes of cheap motels, trains, bars, roadside food joints, liquor stores and soda fountains, painted in bright technicolour hues. Whilst far more skilled than some of Dylan’s earlier painting efforts, Deep Focus maintains Dylan’s impressionist lean, with skies more often red than blue, and the outlines of shapes blurred to give a sense of energy and motion.
All Bob Dylan works are signed — making them a collectors item in and of themselves due to the singer’s famous distaste for giving autographs.
Each official Bob Dylan print also comes with a certification of authenticity.
The value of Bob Dylan art varies. Whilst certain limited-edition Dylan pieces sell on release for tens of thousands of pounds, prints from larger editions and in smaller sizes tend to fall within the more reasonable £1,500 to £3,000 range.
Certain Dylan collections are more popular than others — his first series, Drawn Blank, remains his most popular, with most prints selling out relatively quickly, and the average limited edition selling for between £1,500 and £5,000.
Of his newer artwork, Sunset, Monument Valley, a triptych print recreated from an original artwork featured in Dylan’s recent Retrospective exhibition, sits on the higher end of the spectrum —currently on sale for £25,000 at Castle Fine Art. The large silkscreen print was produced in an edition size of 195.
Other pieces from the same exhibition, including Memphis at Night, Walking in the Fog, and Bridges and Beer, printed in smaller dimensions and larger edition sizes (generally 295) are available within the £2,000 to £3,000 range from galleries.
The record price paid at auction for a Bob Dylan piece was for Side Tracks, from his first collection, which sold in 2022 for US$38,079.
Each new series of Dylan’s work is available directly from the publisher’s website. Bob Dylan art is also for sale at specific galleries. These include:
Whilst most pieces from Dylan’s earliest collections are now sold out on his official website, some paintings and sketches from his Beaten Path, Mondo Scripto and Deep Focus collections are still available to purchase.
Halcyon Gallery also has a large collection of Dylan prints, paintings and sculptures for sale, including some from his Drawn Blank collection.
Although rare on the secondary market, some Dylan pieces can also be found on auction websites like Ebay.
Although prices for new Bob Dylan prints have gone up in recent years, with the same print The Horse, from Dylan’s 2010 series, rising in price from £1,500 in 2013 to £3,292 in 2022 on the primary market, a signed Bob Dylan print is not necessarily the best investment.
Not only are some of Dylan’s earlier shows not yet entirely sold out — a good indicator of a print’s investment value — but his work also sells for less or the same as its original gallery costs on the secondary market.
Reissues of the same series affect the price of previous editions. Dylan’s Fisherman (2010), for example, is available on Ebay for £1,900, whilst Castle Fine Art has a print from the 2016 edition for £4250. Man On A Bridge (2016), similarly, is priced at £3500 on Castle Fine Art, yet can be purchased on Ebay for just £1,999. Indeed, in its last showing at auction Man On A Bridge (2016) hammered at £850.
Despite being well into his 80s, Bob Dylan is still producing art — with no indication of slowing down. Not only is Dylan introducing new collections every few years, but new pieces from his existing series continue to be released, which only serves to lower the value of existing unsold prints. On the secondary market, of the prints offered from mid-2017 through mid-2022 - 11% went unsold & the average hammer price was £2036. Taking 2022 in isolation - 32% have gone unsold & the average hammer has been £1988.
In short, if you are looking for a return over the short to medium term, other artists outperform Bob Dylan.
At the top end of Dylan’s print values, there are numerous works by established artists such as David Hockney, Bridget Riley & Damien Hirst to be had on the secondary market. Artists to watch - such as Invader & STIK - would also have generated significant returns over the last five years. If investment is your primary goal or even a secondary consideration, then market data favours other artists.
For example, the average return on a Damien Hirst print in the last 5 years stands at 57.6% & David Hockney averages a return of 131.8% over that same period (mid-2017 to mid-2022). Showing even faster growth, although less established, the average return on a STIK print stands at 149.5% for the period (mid-2017 to mid-2022), with Invader showing a return of 340.6%. Demand for Hirst and Hockney is reflected in the percentage of works exceeding the high estimate. In the last five years that stands at 31% for Hirst and 44% for Hockney. The number is 43% for the works of Bob Dylan, however, the average hammer sits at £2036, with the high estimate in the majority of cases being less than the original retail price.
Of course, if you are a fan of Bob Dylan and investment potential is not a primary consideration, having a Dylan print – and by extension, autograph – hanging on your wall may be worth the price tag. Whilst the prints do not come up at auction that often, if you are willing to wait you should be able to acquire a work by Bob Dylan at less than retail on the secondary market.
If you own a Bob Dylan print & are looking to sell, we can help you find the right channel to maximise your potential return.
*Data in this report is taken from public auction records.