Tobbe Malm is a blacksmith artist born in Norberg, Sweden, in 1960. Norberg is a small Swedish mining town, where the industry is thought to date from the 12th century. The very earth shook day and night from explosions in the mine tunnels far below the streets. The iron ore was boiled in a blast furnace, the smoke from the huge chimney licking the sky day and night. Malm cites this perpetual presence of heavy industry throughout his childhood as an influence on his work. The constancy of birth and rebirth of substance fascinated him. The towns blast furnace closed down in 1981. Now nature creeps over the crumbling buildings, regaining control over its domain. The inherent beauty in this destruction strikes Tobbe deeply. His work is characterised by explorations into this subject of returning and rebirth.
The Malm family held a space for creativity and Tobbe took inspiration from both his parents. His mother worked in healthcare and published several medical books throughout her career. His father worked in the towns heavy industry, while indulging a silversmith hobby in his spare time. Tobbe explored art and design, working with different materials such as ceramic, wood, textiles, and silver. Eventually training as a social worker, it was natural for him to be drawn toward art as therapy. For Tobbe, the creative process is a powerful and transformative journey for both the artist and the viewer. Tobbes working process begins with a small feeling or thought, usually triggered by an encounter. Drawing on his own memories and experiences, a theme emerges. A sketch. Then to the forge. The iron is heated to 1,000 degrees, at which point it becomes malleable. There is a brief moment in which the iron can be shaped. An encounter between Tobbe and the iron, brief and fleeting, then the metal is plunged into cold water and the expression is frozen.
In 2008, Tobbe moved his workshop to Bærums Verk artist community in Oslo, Norway. He partook in many exhibitions and collectives, receiving awards for his contributions. In 2011 the city and country was shaken deeply by the attacks on Oslo and Utøya by Anders Breivik, which left 77 people dead. Tobbe, together with a blacksmith friend, put out an international call to blacksmiths. Inspired by the roses laid all over Oslo as a symbol of mourning, Tobbe asked that people forge roses from iron. Hundreds of roses flooded in from all over the world. Some were 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. The artistic process provides the opportunity for healing by creating a space where grief can be shared and thus lightened. For each rose forged in this way, Tobbe forged another and added it to the growing collection of iron roses arriving from international blacksmiths. To date there are more than 900 pieces in the collection. Tobbe was awarded the 2014 Alfred Habermann Memorial Prize for the project, titled Iron Rose for Norway.
From this experience, the Bolt Poetry series evolved. Tobbe had found old, rusting bolts of all sizes on a farm in Sweden. He felt they had something to express, so packed as many hundreds of kilos of them as he could into bags and brought them to his workshop. What emerged was strikingly human in form and emotion. The pieces had no title and are gender neutral, yet the viewer assigns all those details and more. As the series grew to four parts, it received international recognition. Tobbes work aims to capture the dynamic nature of moments. The cold, hard, silent, still, pieces seem to speak a thousand warm words and move in a million ways. The experience of the encounter has moved people all over the world. The bolt people, as they are affectionately dubbed, have toured in Sweden and Norway, and internationally to the UK and America.