Bob Dylan: Singer, Songwriter, Welder

Written by: Asra Jawaid
Written by: Asra Jawaid

Bob Dylan is known around the world for the poignant lyrics that have inspired several generations of listeners. In fact, the singer/songwriter won this year’s Nobel Prize in literature for songs he composed and performed in the 1960s. However, most people don’t know that Dylan is also a skilled welder. The tireless 75-year-old troubadour has created his first permanent work of art for a public space. It’s a 26 by 15-foot gate titled Portal, and its scheduled to go on display this December at the MGM National Harbor casino resort near Washington, D.C. Dylan was commissioned by the resort to create an open gate to frame the entrance of the resort. His completed piece features an assortment of gears, cogs, spanners and other parts and tools welded into a soaring archway.

“Mr. Dylan is undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians of our time, but his incredible metalwork sculptures are a testament to his creative genius and ability to transcend mediums,” said Jim Murren, Chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International. “As a company founded upon entertainment, we’re truly inspired by artists who channel their energy into diverse paths. We’re proud to collaborate with Mr. Dylan and bring his vision to MGM National Harbor’s Heritage Collection in a way that enhances this sensory resort experience.”

Bob Dylan's Portal in progress
Bob Dylan’s Portal in progress.

Dylan first unveiled his metal sculptures to the public in a 2013 exposition at London’s Halcyon Gallery. “Mood Swings”, as the presentation was known back then, featured works created from vintage scrap metal and other objects collected from junkyards. Dylan collects everything from chains, cogs, axes, and wheels to children’s toys, kitchen utensils, antique firearms, and farm equipment. Then he welds these mostly mundane items into thoughtfully juxtaposed works of art. And although MGM National Harbor is the first permanent home for Dylan’s work, he’s been crafting it for friends and family for the last thirty years.

In 2007, the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz museum in Germany featured Dylan’s Drawn Blank series. In 2010, his Brazil series was displayed at the Statens Museum in Denmark, and in 2012 his Revisionist Art series was featured at New York’s Gagosian Gallery. Gates are a mainstay in Dylan’s collection of welded work. He draws from their symbolism as doorways. “Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow,” he said. “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.”

Bob Dylan Mood Swings exhibition of ironworks designed by iconic American singer. Dylan has created seven iron gates for the exhibition, which are displayed alongside paintings and signed limited editions at Halcyon Gallery, London, United Kingdom. Thursday, 14th November 2013. Picture by Nils Jorgensen / i-Images

Dylan’s welding captures the nation’s longing for the time before modern technology, when it was just the soil, the hand, and the tool. His welded art also pays homage to his hometown in America’s industrial core. He was raised in the “Iron Range” city of Hibbing, Minnesota, home to one of the largest iron ore mines in the world. The mines in and around Hibbing produced most of the domestic iron ore used to make steel for both World Wars. Appropriately, each of Dylan’s welded works of art features a small metal buffalo with his signature and the words Black Buffalo Iron Works.

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