Highway 65

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By Romeo, Johnny size: 101 x 101 cm code: H31427 Medium: Acrylic and Oil on Canvas Genre: Painting

When Bob Dylan first went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, his performance caused an uproar amongst the folk movement, who accused the singer of moving away from his acoustic folk roots. Dylan’s transition to an electric band signalled that times were indeed a-changin’ in rock music, as captured in Johnny Romeo’s painting Highway 65. Brimming with Romeo’s signature candy-coloured irreverence, the work playfully mashes together the classic cool of Bob Dylan with basketball legend Larry Bird in his distinctive #33 Celtics jersey. The number 65 plays a pivotal role conceptually in the painting, referencing the year in which both Dylan went electric and the Boston Celtics won the NBA championship, as well as informing the title Highway 65. Romeo brilliants connects Tennessee State Route 65, which famously runs across Nashville, with Bob Dylan’s ‘Nashville Skyline’ (1969), an album in which the songwriter ventured into country music and continued his musical evolution. The masterful fusion of Dylan and Bird is further encapsulated in the text passage ‘Electric Bird’, which cheekily covers the word ‘Band’ as a nod to Dylan’s full electric rock band performance at the Newport Folk Festival. Rounding off the painting on a sombre note, the word assemblage also recalls the isolation of the Corona pandemic through its allusion to the single ‘Electric Bird’ (2008) by Australian Pop songstress Sia. In the song, Sia laments that ‘someone plugged you in and clipped your wings, now you can’t fly’, a sentiment which rings true today during the Corona pandemic with its travel restrictions and lockdowns.

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