Monday, September 21, 2015

Interview with Artist Daniel Botkin, Winner of the 2012 Dylan Days Art Compeition

One of the highlights of Hibbing's annual Dylan Days celebration each year was the art competition. The 2012 winning artist was Daniel Botkin, a lifelong Dylan fan from Chicago. Arrangements are currently underway to show his work during the 2016 Dylan Fest in Duluth. Here's a foretaste, of the man and his work.

EN:  How did you come to first take an interest in art?

Daniel Botkin: Ever since I was a little child, I've loved to create art. I still have a pencil-and crayon drawing I did when I was 3 years old. My mom saved it and told me that I called it "Indian Boy With Freckles." In grade school I was the kid who could draw, in high school I took as many art classes as I could, and I majored in art in college.

EN: It’s apparent that Salvador Dali has been an influence. Many of your paintings have that Daliesque surrealistic feel. How did this come about?

DB: I was first exposed to Dali's work when I was in high school. The mystical, dream-like quality of the surrealists always attracted me. Perhaps because I like the unexpected and dislike the routine. I like for some things in life to be routine and predictable, but art is not one of those things. I like art that is unique and unusual.

EN: You won the Dylan Days art competition in 2012 and it’s obvious that Dylan has been a major influence for you as well. When did this begin?

Mr. Tambourine Man
DB: I became a Dylan fan when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I heard "Like a Rolling Stone" on the radio when it first came out, and bought the 45 RPM single. If I remember correctly, I think the flip side was "Gates of Eden." When I heard the song "Gates of Eden," I was thoroughly hooked on Dylan. I bought several of Dylan's 45 RPM singles. A good buddy of mine went into the army and loaned me a few of Dylan's earlier albums while he was away serving our country. He told me if he got killed in Viet Nam, I could keep the albums. Fortunately, he survived the army, I returned his albums, and went out and bought my own copies, as well as every other Dylan album in existence at the time.

EN: Do you listen to Dylan while you paint?

DB: Yes. I occasionally listen to other musicians too, but I think over half of my entire music collection consists of Dylan CDs or CDs with other musicians doing Dylan songs.

EN: Tell us about your painting Motorcycle Black Madonna. What inspired it and what else is contained in the images that a casual observer might miss?

Motorcycle Black Madonna
DB: The inspiration for this piece was one of my favorite verses in "Gates of Eden": "The motorcycle black madonna, two-wheeled gypsy queen, and her silver-studded phantom cause the grey flannel dwarf to scream as he weeps to wicked birds of prey who pick up on his breadcrumb sins." If you only see a photo of the piece, the texture and materials and the 3-D effect are not real obvious. If you see it in person, you see that it is like a relief sculpture made of many materials. The stars around the black madonna's head are wooden stars; her boots are real leather; the horse head on the silver-studded phantom has a glass eye and goat teeth; the tread on the motorcycle's tires is achieved by rope; the breadcrumb sins are made of pieces of painted sponge; the grey flannel dwarf's robe is made of actual grey flannel. I exhibited this piece at a large invitational art show at a local church a few years ago. One of the church ladies told me they were trying to figure out which Bible verse this painting was based on. Of all the Dylan-themed art I've done, this is one of my favorite. I'd like to hang it in our living room, but my wife doesn't want it hanging above our couch. She hates it almost as much as she hates Bob Dylan's singing. So it's for sale, though I will be sad to part with it when it sells.
Motorcycle Black Madonna (detail)
EN: Dylan’s music is infused with Biblical imagery, and I see that you also deal with many Biblical themes, such as Exodus and a series of painting of prophets. How does the Bible fit in with your life’s work?

DB: I make my income primarily as a Bible teacher. I was a pastor for 17 years and turned the leadership of our congregation over to a younger man 2 years ago. Now I travel and teach Bible at Messianic congregations and conferences. I also write and publish a bimonthly magazine with my Bible teachings. Dylan's music actually stirred my interest in the Bible when I first started listening to his songs as a teenager. While my teenage peers were focused on cars and sports, I felt my spirit being stirred by Dylan's music. I found my mind being elevated to think on lofty thoughts, thoughts about God and Jesus, life and love, pleasure and pain, prophecy and Paradise, time and eternity. Even though Dylan was raised as a Jew, he had no qualms about singing about Jesus, even before his "born again" days. On his first album he sang "every link was Jesus' name" (in "Gospel Plow") and "meet me, Jesus, meet me" (in "In My Time of Dyin'"). On his second album he sang "even Jesus would never forgive what you do" (in "Masters of War"). On his third album he sang "Jesus Christ was betrayed by a kiss" (in "With God on Our Side"). On his album "Bringing It All Back Home" he sang about "flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark" (in "It's All Right Ma").

In my hippie days, I was once at a pot party and Dylan's song "When the Ship Comes In" was playing. I had heard the song many times before and probably could have recited the lyrics by heart. But this time I had an epiphany. As soon as the song ended, I announced to my hippie friends, "Hey everybody, I just realized what that song is about! It's about the Second Coming of Christ!" We listened to it again, and all my hippie friends agreed. I don't know if Dylan had the Second Coming in mind when he wrote that song, but it certainly expresses Messianic hopes and expectations. I don't elevate Dylan's song lyrics to the same level as the inspired Holy Scriptures. Dylan's lyrics are not inspired in that way, but they are certainly inspiring.

* * * *
It was painful for many when Zimmy's closed in Hibbing 18 months ago and with it Dylan Days, but the Bob Dylan Way committee here in Duluth had been carrying the flag for several years with events here leading up to the Hibbing culmination. But, as Dylan has many times himself expressed, "Everything changes."

To see his work in person, arrangements are currently being made to display his work in May 2016 here in Duluth. You will a chance to see his work in person when you join us for the May Dylan Fest celebration next spring.

To see more of Botkin's art online, visit

Meantime, art goes on... all around you.

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