Often hailed as one of America’s greatest songwriters of all time, folk music legend Bob Dylan has always shown himself to be a master of simplicity, social consciousness, and storytelling. With his unique counterculture voice, his music has been a motivator for numerous protests and progressive movements over the decades. But Dylan has long since proven that he is also well versed in the visual arts, and with his latest sculpture Rail Car, he has unveiled his largest piece yet.
Bob Dylan’s Rail Car, which was installed and revealed this past week at Château La Coste in Provence, France, immediately resonates with the energy of both his sculpture work as well as the themes of his songwriting; a life-sized rail car made up of multiple dark iron pieces, all of varying shapes and sizes. Trains have been a recurrent symbol throughout Dylan’s career—the songs “Slow Train”, “Freight Train Blues”, and Train A-Travellin’” to name a few—and collages of iron pieces are often the makeup of the artist’s sculpture work.
“[It] represents perception and reality at the same time…all the iron is re-contextualized to represent peace, serenity, and stillness,” stated Dylan of Rail Car. And in its position at Château La Coste it’s not hard to feel that dichotomy of this harsh, rugged element infused with such soft energy. The various wheels and curves within the makeup of shapes give a sensation of momentum and the ladders and barred gates a sense of stability or stopping. It’s an ambivalent and ruminative representation of a stoic yet adventurous form of transportation, open to the elements and air it travels through.
Bob Dylan has only been exhibiting his sculpture work since 2013—the first of which was Mood Swings, a series of wrought iron gates created by the artist—but the artist has had iron rooted in his life since childhood. In a statement from him during the exhibition, Dylan stated “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. 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.”
Bob Dylan’s Rail Car follows in multiple traditions of the artist’s life and career—his unparalleled depiction of Americana, his work’s ambivalent emotional beauty, and his lifelong connection to iron. In many ways, Rail Car feels like the largest and most direct culmination of both sides of the artist. A timeless piece bringing together humanity’s endeavours of fabrication with the expansiveness of the natural world, the resonance of this installation makes it that much harder to lose the freight train blues.