Monday, January 15, 2018

Five Minutes with Skye on Her Remarkable Bob Dylan Tribute "Shakespeare's in the Alley"

In May, Bob Dylan will be 77 years old. In light of this the Duluth Dylan Fest (DDF) committee has settled upon the theme Twins for this year's week-long Dylan celebration. Dylan was born in the Twin Ports (14* blocks East from Twin Ponds), and when he left his Hibbing home for college he moved to the Twin Cities. His zodiac sign is Gemini, a.k.a. the Twins. There are some who have called his double album Blonde On Blonde his best or most important. Many more symbols could be extracted from his discography as well, no doubt. (eg. I and I.)

Every Twin Ports Dylan fan misses Zimmy's and the Dylan Days celebrations they carried off before Zimmy's closed. Hence it has been important to these local fans that the torch be a bright one here. Two years ago Bob turned 75, which made that DDF a very special one with many unique features including the public display of a portion of Bill Pagel's private memorabilia collection. (See Einstein Disguised As Robin Hood.) Last year, the Nobel Prize gave the annual DDF a shot of adrenaline, bringing media attention from all over the world to Duluth's native son. So in the aftermath, the local comrades wondered, "What next?"

It was at this point we learned of Wisconsin artist Skye's text-based art installation featuring the song poems of Bob Dylan. It was a massive and magnificent undertaking titled Shakespeare's in the Alley: A Tribute to Bob Dylan, which first made its appearance a year ago at the MOWA (Museum of Wisconsin Art) in West Bend, near Milwaukee.

EN: What was your motivation to undertake a project of this scale?

Skye: I would say my motivation was a passion for Bob Dylan’s work. I became so full with an enthusiasm for his work, that it had to “overflow” in some way or other. Because of my background as a visual artist, it took the form that it did. I wanted to pay tribute to him for personal reasons, but also because of his impact on the world. In a sense, I wanted to wrap myself in his words and music. I wanted to live inside of his work. I wanted it to pour over me. I knew the power of words writ large from previous stenciling projects I had done. I felt the scale needed to match the scale of Dylan’s genius, if that is even possible. Imagine 80-100 panels hanging in the Grand Lobby of the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. That might do it.

EN: You have been working for 10 years on this. When you first started did you have any idea what you were getting into?
Skye: Well, I guess you could say yes, it started 10 years ago. But 10 years ago I simply saw the film “No Direction Home“ about Dylan in the 1960’s. I was “struck” by something in that film and the interesting juxtaposition of Dylan in his 60’s looking back at himself in the 1960’s, as well as many others looking back on that time. The film prompted me to look into his music again. I had not really followed Dylan since the late 70’s, so there was a lot to catch up on. I listened to everything I could from the local library and then slowly began to collect all of his studio albums. I read a lot of books about him (and still do) and watched films and documentaries. For 2 years this was a love and passion of mine, an interest. The installation grew out of that passion. I wanted to pay tribute to an artist who had moved me so much. It was his life of work that so inspired me. And most especially his late career renaissance. I have to say, the panels came into my vision on my morning walks, sometime in 2009/2010. They would unroll in front of me in the invisible world, the dream world. At first I resisted it. But I began to see the power and strength of such a project. Back then, I knew I wanted the work to span his whole career. I thought perhaps I would choose 30 songs. I stopped at 44, but really it should probably be closer to 100 songs. So, in that way, I didn’t know what I was getting into. Nor did I know that I would be paying tribute to the 2016 Nobel Laureate for Literature, although by the time I completed 44 song panels and had poured over his music and lyrics for 4 years, I knew he deserved it. The stenciling of the panels was done from the summer of 2011-fall of 2015, sometimes more, sometimes less.

EN: Can you share one or two things you learned from creating this work?

Skye: I learned about following a strong vision to its conclusion, regardless of what anyone thinks about it. I learned about the beauty of paying tribute to another artist... for the most part, the ego falls away. And I was reminded again that great art comes from mysterious places, places of whispers and dreams. Bob Dylan’s art has given me glimpses into those places and sometimes, at it’s very best, transports me there. Creating this work allowed me to hang out in the landscape that is Bob Dylan in a very intimate way... I learned that genius is a Lonely realm, but Mystery and Beauty are there as well.

EN: How did you decide on the name “ Shakespeare’s in the Alley” ?

Skye: One of the songs in the collection is “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again“ There are a few lines in the song:

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
with his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking with some French girl
who says she knows me well

I shortened it to Shakespeare’s in the Alley, mirroring the line in the song and, in my mind, referring to Dylan as the Shakespeare of our time.

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This year Duluth Dylan Fest will run from May 18 thru May 27. You can find more information about points of interest and schedule of events as they are finalized here at

*14 = 7+7

1 comment:

Susan said...

Thanks for this background Ed, a great insight into this artist looking forward to experiencing this speaks to Dylan’s art. Power and enduring influence .