Lay, ladies, lay: Bob Dylan's 'Two Sisters (Green). The great folk musician has long been dabbling in art

"GREAT paintings shouldn't be in museums… Museums are cemeteries. Paintings should be on the walls of restaurants, in dime stores, in gas stations, in men's rooms. Great paintings should be where people hang out… You pay half a million and hang one in your house and one guest sees it. That's not art. That's a shame, a crime."

So said Bob Dylan back in 1965. But the times, they have a-changed, and so too has Dylan's attitude to painting. The legendary musician, it turns out, has long been dabbling in art, and the fruits of his labour are about to go on display in Ireland for the first time.

The Drawn Blank Series, a limited edition collection of signed graphic prints produced by Washington Green Fine Art Publishing, will be shown at the Bradbury Gallery in Belfast from Saturday 9 August. Each image is limited to 295 prints, and prices range from £1,000 for a single work up to £33,500 for a complete set of 29 images.

Tanya Regan of the Bradbury Gallery says collectors from as far afield as the US and Australia have already been in contact, and most of the pieces will be sold by the time the exhibition opens. "It's pretty overwhelming," she says. "The interest is phenomenal."

It all began two years ago, when Ingrid Mössinger, curator of an obscure gallery in the town of Chemnitz in east Germany, came across a small Random House publication in an antiquarian bookshop in Manhattan.

Entitled Drawn Blank, it was a 1994 book of sketches Dylan made while on tour in Europe, Asia and the US between 1989 and 1992. Depicting hotel rooms, train tracks, bar-room characters, diners and street scenes, the images were snapshots of Dylan's peripatetic existence.

"I… was just drawing whatever I felt like drawing, whenever I felt like doing it," he said recently. "The idea was always to do it without affectation or self-reference, to provide some kind of panoramic view of the world as I was seeing it."

Mössinger decided she wanted to stage an exhibition of these vignettes of life on the road, and Dylan agreed. But rather than exhibit the original drawings, which had gone missing, he created new versions in watercolour and gouache.

This was achieved via a rather curious method: the images from the book were scanned, digitally enlarged and printed on paper. Dylan then reworked these scanned drawings using paint, altering the colours to produce several versions of each image.

"I was fascinated to learn of Ingrid's interest in my work," Dylan said. "If not for this interest, I don't know if I even would have revisited them."

When the paintings were exhibited in Germany last year in Dylan's first gallery show, his work was compared with everyone from Munch and Matisse to Van Gogh and Warhol. Many critics claimed the images represent transience, loneliness and a melancholy temperament, while others sought to draw comparisons with his painting style and approach to music.

The paintings were then displayed in London last month, with Washington Green's graphic prints unveiled at the same time, and it is these that are coming to Belfast.

"He has put down his guitar for a small amount of time and picked up a paintbrush, and it seems to be that he is as adept with his paintbrush as he is with his guitar," says Andrew White of the fine art publishers.

Dylan, however, is characteristically modest, saying: "It's not like the drawings were revolutionary. They weren't going to change anyone's way of thinking."

He has a point.

Dylan is not the only musician to try his hand at visual art, with Ronnie Wood, Paul McCartney, Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell all attracting attention recently for their artwork.

But all too often with musicians like Dylan, it is the name attached to the work that takes precedence over the art itself.

"It's a little piece of history that people can have: basically, Dylan's signature," says Regan of the Drawn Blank Series. "I think people are buying the work not just for the artistic value but because of the signature on it."

Eimear McKeith