"My working process begins with a small feeling or thought, usually triggered by an encounter. Drawing on my own memories and experiences, a theme emerges. A sketch. Then to the forge. There is a brief moment in which the iron can be shaped - when it has reached 1,000 degrees Celsius. An encounter, brief and fleeting, then the metal is plunged into cold water and the expression is frozen."
Blacksmith artist, Tobbe Malm was born in the former iron mining town of Norberg, Sweden, in 1960. Generations of mining shaped the lives and minds of the inhabitants. Explosions in the mine tunnels far below the streets of Norberg shook the town day and night. The iron ore was boiled in a blast furnace, the smoke from the huge chimney perpetually licking the sky. Malm cites this presence of heavy industry throughout his childhood as an influence on his work. The constancy of birth and rebirth of substance fascinated him. As a child, he tinkered with a wide range of materials assisted by his father, a keen silversmith in his spare time. Malm's work is characterized by explorations into this subject of returning. In 2008, he moved his life and workshop to Bærums Verk artist village in Oslo, Norway. He was surprised to find both his past and present suddenly brought into stark relief.
"When you move to a new place you are meeting yourself again, like new."
Much of Malm's work since then has been influenced by the idea of the perception of stories and the spark of encounters. He probes the resilience of our experience and the immediate presence of history in our lives. For Malm, the creative process is a powerful and transformative journey for both the artist and the viewer. As a trained social worker, it was natural for him to be drawn toward art as therapy. He created the Iron Rose for Norway (Jernrosen) Project in response to the fatal 2011 gun attack on Utøya in the Oslo fjord, which left 77 people dead. Malm was inspired by the Norwegian Prime Ministers message of togetherness in the wake of the tragedy and by the "sea of roses" laid all over Oslo in mourning. He asked people forge to roses from iron. Hundreds of roses flooded in from all over the world; some delivered by hand from as far away as Australia. Meanwhile, Tobbe worked with survivors, their families, and those close to victims, to forge iron roses at his workshop. The artistic process provides the opportunity for healing by creating a space where grief can be viewed and shared. To date, there are more than 900 pieces in the collection. Malm was awarded the 2014 Alfred Habermann Memorial Prize for his work. He continues to dedicate himself to the process of creating art and telling stories. "I never know which way the piece will go. The process opens new doors for me."
Tobbe Malm has taken part in several significant exhibitions around Oslo, including the Akerhus Kunstsenters “Kunstvisitten” Oslo Bussterminalen exhibition in February of this year, and Kunstrettvest (2015, 2016 and 2017), and has been commissioned to produce several public sculptures and traditional blacksmith gates. He received worldwide acclaim for his Bolt Poetry series, which was exhibited internationally through 2015-2017.
This review was published by Circle Foundation for the Arts © CFA Press ∙ Images are courtesy of the artist