LONDON — Bob Dylan-the-sculptor might not a label by which the singer-songwriter is universally known. However the 72-year-old musical icon has been successfully exhibiting and selling artwork since 2007.
Dylan’s first museum show, a series of paintings and drawings, The Drawn Blank Series, was in Chemnitz, Germany. This latest exhibition, Bob Dylan Mood Swings, presents his first collection of iron works and opened at London’s Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair on November 16.
Dylan’s metal sculptures, mostly in the form of large gates, have been constructed out of vintage industrial objects, all sourced in America. He has given new life to parts of engines, cars, tools, chains, locks, wheels and spanners, and even the odd meat grinder.
These works are the outcome of his lifelong fascination with welding and metalwork. According to Paul Green, president of the Halcyon Gallery, the exhibition, which runs through January 25, 2014, is “the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of Bob Dylan’s art to date.”
Born in Duluth, Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, an area described as the Iron Range due to the many deposits of ore in the hillside. It was also home to one of the largest open-pit mines in the world.
This industrial landscape made a profound impression on Dylan and in promoting this exhibition he has said that, “I’ve been around iron all my life ever since I was a kid. I was born and raised in iron ore country — where you could breathe it and smell it every day.”
Considering the autobiographical influence, it is surprising that there is little of a personal nature. Certain symbolic objects have been specially created and welded into the mechanical arrangements, such as a treble clef, a musical note and a guitar. The image of a dog, positioned atop of what may be a musical bar, is also inserted in one piece, but these are all occasional references.
In contrast with the glossy grey surface of these immense structures, there is a decorative element of color. Red, green, yellow and blue have been playfully added here and there which lift the pieces from their rather raw look.
Gates appeal to Dylan, he says, “because of the negative space they allow. They can be closed but at the same time they allow the seasons and breezes to enter and flow. They can shut you out or shut you in. And in some ways there is no difference.”
The exhibition’s accompanying notes explain these sculptures are intended for gardens, pathways and entrances. This is a selling exhibition and it is understood that these works will command high prices.
The gallery is also exhibiting Dylan’s revisionist art; mocked up covers of classic American magazines including Time, Life and Rolling Stone. We are told that he has taken social, political and pop culture icons and mixed and matched headlines and images.
They are mildly satirical and some are amusing, such as Archeology Today whose headline is “UK Explorers Find the Body of Moses.” On another, Life magazine advertises an article,”‘Today’s Neurotic Women” featuring an image of a wide-eyed Woody Allen accompanied by the subhead, “Woody Allen Caught in Love Triangle.”
These pastiche covers are hung among a series of six bullet-holed car doors whose desired affect is to “memorialize the spirit of the gangster” such as Scarface, Al Capone and Bugsy.
In a separate room pieces from The Drawn Blank Series are also on show, including a large-scale painting and a selection of Side Tracks, Dylan’s train drawings.
Here, train track images recede into the distance and we are told that trains play an important part in Dylan’s music, writing and art. In each version he uses the same colors but the color distribution — and texture — varies in each print.
Overall it is an impressive oeuvre for an artist, who is also an author, film director, actor and radio host and has sold over 110 million records and continues to tour extensively.
But it is the gates in Mood Swings that will undoubtedly provide the greatest draw. For the general public, and interested buyers alike, these works have certainly revealed another aspect of Dylan’s artistry and may demonstrate, as Paul Green suggests, Dylan’s “boundless creativity and talent.”
The gates are intriguing, imposing even, but sadly, unlike his music, they are not inspirational.