Taking viewers through Vietnam, Korea, China and Japan, The Asia Series is a visual reflection of Bob Dylan’s travels during his spring 2011 concert tour. Exhibited at the Gagosian Gallery in New York the same year, the tranquil paintings were released as a limited edition collection in 2021.
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The Asia Series transports audiences away from the highways and winding streets of America to the heart of rural East Asia. In these muted, emotive paintings, Bob Dylan reflects on his travels to Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea during his spring 2011 concert tour.
Like The Brazil Series, Dylan portrays the people, interiors, landscapes and architecture with earthy tones and narratives that encourage collectors to continue the story beyond the canvas. Alongside his own memories, Dylan drew upon a range of source material, including photography, archival film, and observational sketches.
In the literature for his 2011 exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Manhattan - his first-ever New York exhibition - it was revealed that Dylan often draws and paints while on tour. It added: “His motifs bear corresponding impressions of different environments and people. A keen observer, Dylan is inspired by everyday phenomena in such a way that they appear fresh, new and mysterious.”
The subject matter for The Asia Series is varied; Dylan is just as at home capturing the mountainous landscape of Hunan as he is the inside of an opium den. In a conversation with the noted curator John Elderfield, Dylan himself described the works as “tranquil paintings”, noting the inclusion of “non-Western” figures.
While some critics have identified similarities between the paintings and photographs by the French photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Léon Busy, others have reiterated the importance of reworking scenes throughout art history. Others still have suggested alternative artistic influences, including German Expressionism.
Dylan has previously spoken of being inspired by the French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, and Japanese art had a significant influence on French Impressionism. Another of Dylan’s artistic inspirations, the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, was influenced by Japanese printmaking.
Nevertheless, Dylan proposes that most of his inspiration comes from real life, something that can be inferred from the simple scenes depicted in The Asia Series. He explains: “It has to start with that. Real people, real street scenes, behind the curtain scenes, live models, paintings, photographs, staged setups, architecture, grids, graphic design. Whatever it takes to make it work.”