A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Monday, 16 December 2013

London: (2) Not Any Old Iron

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. And I've always worked with it in one form or another.

Gates appeal to me 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.


I left Grosvenor Square and walked the short distance to New Bond Street, where the Halcyon Gallery is hosting Mood Swings, an exhibition of Bob Dylan's sculpted iron gates. My main reason for visiting London was to see this. I was not disappointed. These are beautiful art works, the gates enclosing a welded tracery of satisfyingly composed 'found' metal objects, such as wheels and cogs, springs and horseshoes, hammers and nails, chains and spanners, workmen's tools of all kinds. They are decorative rather than raw and disturbing — with some whimsical and autobiographical elements thrown in, such as a dog, a guitar, a treble clef symbol and a small buffalo (his logo on each work) — but this is surely Dylan's intention: the whole forms a nostalgic memorial to and celebration of the Minnesotan Iron Range country of his youth, and his hometown, Hibbing, site of the biggest opencast iron ore mine in the world.    

Downstairs I was surprised and delighted to find a collection of framed, poster-size silkscreen prints representing Dylan's Revisionist Art Series. Here Dylan has fun with the covers of famous American magazines such as Time or Playboy, cutting and pasting headlines from here and images from there in a surreal and satirical mashup. (This technique of recontextualisation recalled some of his songs, his stream-of-consciousness prose poem Tarantula and his film Renaldo and Clara.) He's debunking our cultural icons in these screen prints, but in an affectionate not bilious way. There's also a display of rusty, bullet-holed car doors, each attributed to a Depression-era gangster. 

Finally, upstairs and in a section of gallery across the street, you come across an exhibition of Dylan's paintings and drawings  — The Drawn Blank Series (1989-92) — and his prints — Side Tracks, a series of 327 prints (each hand embellished by Dylan), and Drawn Blank Graphics (2008-13), a series of limited edition prints (most of them sold). The subject of much of this art is the transient nature of life on the road: train tracks, city scenes, café stools, fleeting encounters with women.

Dylan himself has said that he draws 'to relax and refocus a restless mind'. While his style can seem a little awkward and derivative — you detect the strong influence of artists such as Chagall, Dufy, Van Gogh and Warhol, for example — I did enjoy his paintings more than I ever have done before. He does have a keen eye for colour and composition. And it was good to see these artworks 'in the flesh', rather than in reproduced form, and good also to find them alongside the reworked magazine covers and the gate sculptures. It really brought home how Dylan is impelled and adventurous enough to experiment with different forms and means of artistic expression. When you consider the songs as well, and the storytelling element within them, all these separate strands link together and cohere.  

Back on the gallery's ground floor the directors were schmoozing with the buyers and dealers, though apparently most of the iron works had already been sold. I bought a paperback copy of the Mood Swings catalogue (which was later stolen) and asked one of the long-blonde-haired, six-inch-black-heeled assistants if Dylan had visited. 'Yes, he came late one evening.'
'Did you meet him?' 
'No, sadly not, only the directors were there!' 
'Did he like how you'd displayed his stuff?' 
'Oh, yes, I think so.' 
Then I stepped back outside, past the doorman, and into the polluted and expensive air of New Bond Street, with its Cartier and Chanel, its Asprey and its Dior, its Ferragamo and its Alexander McQueen.

Well the winds in Chicago have torn me to shreds
Reality has always had too many heads
Some things last longer than you think they will
Some kind of things you can never kill
Though it's you, and you only, I'm singin' about
But you can't see in and it's hard looking out
I'm twenty miles out of town and Cold Irons bound.

BOB DYLAN Cold Irons Bound


Timecheck said...


Vagabonde said...

That must have been a very interesting exhibit. You do say that his art work is more decorative than disturbing. I read a review on this saying that his art is “light” and needs some “bite” but then, this can be the reviewer’s opinion only.

London in December has always been busy and I bet it is even more so now. It has changed so much from December 1953 for my first visit there as a teenager. Gosh! I just calculated and that was 60 years ago…. I guess in 60 years – 2073, it will look even more different – maybe my grandchildren will visit it in the future. I like to remember it the way it was, too … I was just trying to recall the colors of my college near London – the colors were on my scarf – I think they were navy, light blue and purple – not too pretty anyhow.

I saw Bob Dylan in San Francisco in the 1960s – I may have a picture of him. I think he was singing with John Baez somewhere in San Francisco or Berkeley. I liked her, but him – not much. My husband liked him a lot but I thought his voice was too nasal, if that is a word, and I had a hard time understanding his English.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much for this account, Robert. When musicians do visual art, it is interesting how they show other facets of their personality and roots, and also how it amplifies what is already known through their music, as you connect here.

Apparently Joni Mitchell thinks of herself first as a painter!

The Weaver of Grass said...

I had no idea about this side of Bob Dylan Robert, so found this most interesting.

George said...

An interesting and inspiring post, Robert. Personally, I'm very attracted to art created with "found" objects. The whole notion of recycling the ordinary into art is very appealing. It's always satisfying when an artist compels us to see things differently.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I value them — sorry I haven't replied to them all individually.

How lucky you were to see Bob and Joan in the 60s, Vagabonde!