Bob Dylan is regarded by many as rock's greatest lyricist, but he's also building a reputation as music's sneakiest plagiarist. It began at a young age, when the then-Robert Zimmerman's first published poem was just lyrics he stole from a Hank Snow song. Through the years, Dylan has been accused of repurposing other writers' lyrics, poems, or lines of movie dialogue into his own songs. Still, this is Bob Dylan we're talking about here, and his legendary body of work has overshadowed those minor lyrical larcenies. The art world, however, is less forgiving.
Dylan paints on the side, and occasionally that work is featured in galleries. An exhibit of Dylan's paintings called "The Asia Series" currently adorns the walls of New York's Gagosian Gallery, and it turns out many of the paintings might not be Dylan's original compositions. According to the New York Times, some of the works in the Asia Series are just Dylan's painted depictions of photographs by genuine artists like Henri-Cartier Bresson, Léon Busy, and Dmitri Kessel. Dylan didn't even do a good job of covering his tracks: His painting "Opium" is a direct lift of Busy's photograph "Woman Smoking Opium."
The works of artists like Rembrandt and Velazquez have been ripped off and forged by no-names throughout the centuries. It takes a team of art historians to differentiate a real Matisse from a counterfeit Matisse, so this type of practice is common in the art world. However, it's how Dylan presented his work that has the art community furious: The Asia Series is being advertised as Dylan's "firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape." Those "firsthand depictions" are actually Dylan reinterpreting other artists' "firsthand depictions." They're secondhand at best.
Dylan's songs have been endlessly covered by generations of musicians, so the singer/songwriter will be forgiven for covering the work of photographers with a paintbrush. Maybe he should stick to writing instead of painting, though.
[Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com]