To artist, towering subject matter drives Dylan mural

Documenting the mural progress with a drone.
A photo crew was documenting the Dylan mural painting using time lapse photography and a low-flying drone in Minneapolis on August 30, 2015.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

A five-story tribute to Bob Dylan is rapidly taking shape in downtown Minneapolis, where world-renowned Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra and five other painters are creating a huge multi-colored mural on the side of a building.

Painting a mural 150 feet wide and 60 feet tall on the side of a building is a noisy business, what with the warning sirens going off every time the motorized lifts move. But Joan Vorderbruggen says everyone is just concentrating on painting the three huge images of Dylan at different stages in his career. The work is titled "Times are a-changing."

Vorderbruggen, cultural district arts coordinator for the Hennepin Theatre Trust, is overseeing the project at 5th and Hennepin. She said she's had her eye on this wall as a potential site for a mural for some time, and she can hardly believe someone of Kobra's stature and his crew are now at work there.

"It's just astonishing to see how fast they are able to work," she said. "Their reputation is that they are some of the best street artists in the entire world, and just watching them work is mesmerizing."

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Vorderbruggen explained Kobra's trademark style of combining photorealistic painting with kaleidoscopic color. Even after just a few days' work, the formerly white wall is a rainbow of reds, yellows and blues.

By the second day, outlines were clear.
Work on the mural is going quickly, although Kobra and his fellow painters say they are racing against time to get the piece finished by September 7. By the second day, August 27, 2015, the outline of the mural was clear, but Kobra said there was a huge amount of detail and color to be added.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Three Brazilians came with Kobra to work on the mural, and when they come down from their perches to discuss their progress, the air fills with Portuguese. Speaking through an interpreter, Kobra said this is one of the most important walls his team has painted, because of its size and its subject.

"In Brazil, Dylan is very respected," he said. "Especially for people who are more culturally informed."

Kobra is much in demand. He began as a graffiti artist in Sao Paulo, but he has now completed murals around the world. He has projects scheduled for Haiti, Moscow, Brooklyn and Palm Beach, but pushed the Minneapolis mural to the front of the line.

"It's a hard one," he said. "It's very big."

Because of the scale of the work, the Brazilians enlisted the help of two Minnesotans, Erin Sayer and Yuya Negishi. Sayer, a veteran muralist, said Kobra is calm and really nice.

Erin Sayer is one of two Minneapolis artists.
Erin Sayer, one of two Minneapolis artists on the Dylan project, blocks in colors on August 27, 2015.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

"And can't speak a lick of English," she said, while stirring some paint. "But it doesn't matter, because when you are painting you understand the language of what you need to do."

And as a fan who has attended 20 Dylan shows, Sayer is delighted to be part of a hometown homage to a favorite son.

"This is our — I don't know — love letter to him, I guess," she said.

As often happens with Dylan-related projects, things get vague when questions come up about his involvement. A family member who prefers to go unnamed has been involved. Organizers also don't want to reveal the cost of the project, but it's believed to be about $50,000.

The building is owned by R2 Companies, a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. R2 Vice President Matt Garrison said the aim is to make the building more attractive for creative companies.

"It's about making the area interesting and vibrant," he said. "And hopefully other people do the same thing, and there is a multiplier effect, and this is how neighborhoods kind of change for the positive."

By day five, Kobra's trademark style emerged.
By Sunday August 30, 2015, day five of painting, Kobra's trademark kaleidoscope style was beginning to emerge.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

The work is drawing a stream of visitors, including a woman who gave her name simply as Emiko. She said the mural could become a local icon.

"Being a designer myself, I just love seeing art pop up like this all over the city," she said. "It just really represents the city in such a great way."

Just about everyone involved in the project hopes the Dylan mural will become a visitor destination. And as it grows more colorful by the day, Kobra offered a hope for something else. He's heard it gets cold in Minneapolis. "So we are bringing some of the Brazilian heat to Minnesota," he said, laughing.

The Kobra crew is working 13-hour days to get the piece finished. It's due to be complete Sept. 7.