The Art Work on Bob Dylan’s Albums: 29 – Oh Mercy

A list of all the previous articles in this series is given at the end.

by Patrick Roefflaer

  • Released                                1989-09-12
  • Graffiti                                   Remerro Trotsky Williams
  • Photographer                       Suzie-Q
  • Art-director                          Christopher Austopchuck
  • Type Design                          Mark Burdett

Often, when a photo is needed for the cover of his next album, Bob Dylan invites a photographer to meet him at the recording studio where the sessions took place, usually during the mixing stage.

His 26 studio album, Oh Mercy, was famously recorded in New Orleans in the Spring of 1989. But when the record company asks for a photo, the singer is in New York City, where he is rehearsing for his imminent Summer tour.

Tour 89 starts in Europe, on May 27. There’s only a two-day break between the last show in Athens, Greece on June 28 and the start of the American leg in Peoria, Illinois, on July 1st. That tour ends on September 24.

A show is planned in New Orleans on August 25, but that’s too late to obtain a picture for the album.  So, it’s time for a plan B.

The rehearsals take place in The Power Station in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood in Manhattan. Those recording facilities are located at 441 West 53rd Street. On the next corner – just a three-minute walk – is a Chinese Restaurant, Kowk Wah.

The entrance of the restaurant is on 9th Street,  the wall facing West 53rd is graced with a colorful acrylic-on-brick mural, which charms Bob Dylan. The mural is signed: Trotsky ‘86.

Dylan has the work photographed.  The photograph was taken by JIM LINDERMAN / DULL TOOL DIM BULB.

With the help of a local community group, representatives of Columbia Records locate the artist living just across the street of the mural. They find that his name is actually Trotksy: Remerro Trotsky Williams.

Williams was born (in February 1953) and raised in Washington DC.  He had painted murals in his hometown, and on the West German side of the Berlin Wall before creating the ‘Dancing Couple’ mural.

In an interview with New York Magazine, published in September 1989,  Trotsky recounted: “I had just come from the housing court, and I owed thousands of dollars in rent. I was just about to give up and move to Atlanta or Istanbul, and I get a phone call: ‘CBS calling – we want to use one of your paintings for the Bob Dylan LP’, and I say ‘You’re kidding me; this is some kind of cruel joke; go away, but give me your number and I’ll call you back.’ I called back and it ended up being a real thing.”

The artist is offered $5,000 for the use of his art on the next Bob Dylan album and he’s invited to meet the singer (probably on July 23 at the show at the Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, Long Island, NYC).

“He told me my painting blew him away,” says the artist in another late 1989 interview for People. “He was also concerned that I liked the title of the album to go with my artwork. That was very nice.”

”I’m hot right now and I love it,” Trostky concluded. However, a few months later he was diagnosed with HIV. Luckily he survived.

The mural itself self however didn’t survive. In 2011 it was replaced by two new pieces of wall art. Nowadays the place is a pizzeria, called Norma. The brick wall is painted brownish, without any artworks.

On the back of the cover is a photo of the singer with a hat, according to the credits taken by Suzie-Q. This probably refers to his clothing advisor, Suzie Pullen.

The overall design of the album is overseen by Christopher Austopchuck, graphic design professor at the School of Visual Arts. As Creative Director for CBS, he was responsible for the art works for three other Bob Dylan related albums: The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 (1991), The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1992) and  Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1994).

Type Design by Mark Burdett, another photographer & art director for CBS.

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This is a continuing series of articles with illustrations, concerning the origins of and decision making within, creating the covers of Bob Dylan’s albums.

Here are the articles so far .  All are by Patrick Roefflaer.

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