Bob Dylan prints in Norwich

Ian Collins Pictures by Bob Dylan are coming to Norwich. Ian Collins previews the art of yet another veteran rocker – and it’s not like a Rolling Stone.

Ian Collins

So many rock stars want to be taken seriously as artists - so seriously, in fact, that lots of them have turned to painting. Take Bob Dylan, whose latest world tour is composed of pictures.

The Dylan tour - entitled The Drawn Blank Series - is about to roll into Norwich, with a suite of limited-edition prints or “graphics” released this week, having been lately created by the maestro from 92 sketches he'd made while on the road in America between 1989 and 1992.

Well, we had fair warning. Ages ago he wailed: “Some day, everything is gonna be different/ When I paint my masterpiece.”

As it is, the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney and David Bowie got in long before him by going public over their private brushes with painting.

He's even been beaten by Paul Simonon, former bass player with The Clash, as well as by Tony Bennett and, er, Rolf Harris. Or maybe Rolf was really a painter all along who had a stab at singing and clowning - labelling celebrity can be a tricky business.

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Now the late-showing Dylan offers images which may draw a five-word response: Not Like A Rolling Stone. Yes, Ronnie Wood is a rather better artist.

Still, compositions such as the back of a woman in a yellow dress leaning against a pub bar with a green background have the lively and sketchy air of pages from a travelogue - though connections and context can be as cryptic as the blessed Bob's notoriously baffling lyrics.

Actually, it's easiest with Woman in Red Lion Pub because she appears again and again in a colourful series - Yellow on Green, Green on Blue, Pink on Purple. So much for Blonde on Blonde.

This vivid vision is then played out through works such as Under the Red Sky and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. The latter sounds strangely familiar.

But the eclectic style was to be expected from the man born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota way back on May 24, 1941. His, after all, was the quicksilver talent that caused many to blow a fuse when he crossed from folk to rock in 1965 by going electric, and again when he moved over to country when recording in Nashville.

All that fusion sparked confusion in fans who solved the problem by greeting each contradictory offering from their elusive and reclusive hero like the pronouncement of an Old Testament prophet - which is precisely what he appeared to become for a time with born-again Christianity making a former rebel a hero to George W Bush Republicans.

Now it's all changed again, with the 67-year-old rocker turning secular and apparently declaring for Barack Obama (“You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they're poor”) while sticking to his guns in attacking the music industry as a “made-up bunch of hypocritical rubbish”.

And he still finds time to snipe at ever-loyal fans with a blast of “These so-called connoisseurs of Dylan music don't have an inkling of who I am.” Dear old Bob.

As controversial as he is contrary, the longest nasal whine in history has now been heard on more than 500 songs recorded on 44 albums over the past 46 years. I love his music…when sung by other people. (And, for me, the best song he ever inspired is Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez.)

But he himself has shifted 110 million albums - with sales of the critically-acclaimed latest, Modern Times, topping 2.5 million copies to date after entering the US Billboard chart at number one and debuting within the top five in 21 other countries.

This is the singer songwriter who wisely declined the label of poet, saying he regarded himself as “a trapeze artist”. But should he just stick to the music?

Well, the gouache, watercolour and charcoal studies Dylan scanned onto big sheets of paper for reworking last year have an edgy energy. Technically, they can be all over the place.

These days the skills of draughtsmanship are widely discarded, but it takes real genius to ditch the basics successfully having fully grasped them in the first place. In this case, I fear the Woman on a Bed is so positioned because she is unable to lift those legs.

Not as good as vintage album covers (that much-missed art form wholly diminished by the switch from LPs to CDs), Dylan drawings do have a certain charm - but far less than John Lennon's brilliant doodles.

Dylan once said that Blonde on Blonde was “the closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my head. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound.”

And that's just about true of the pictures - wild, mercurial and thin.

The Drawn Blank Series by Bob Dylan is at Norwich's Castle Galleries - on North Terrace, Chapelfield - from Saturday, June 14 (01603 665978; Prices start at £1,000 for images in editions of 295.