John Bisbee found his art form by literally kicking the bucket. Then a college student, disillusioned by the ceramic, glass and “really bad found-object sculptures” he was creating, Bisbee turned to scavenging for materials in an abandoned house. Wandering around, he bumped a pail filled with nails. Instead of spilling, the nails tipped out as a block, rusted into the form of the bucket. “I was, like, ‘This is way better than the crap I’m making,’” he told American Craft.
Three decades on and Bisbee is still working with nails (as an artist-in-residence at Bowdoin College in his native Maine), ever experimenting with greater scale. “It always has to be fresh and wow me on some level, because I get bored very easily. If I’m not chasing some new configuration or verb, I get depressed.”
Bisbee’s current material muse are bright commons, the largest standard spikes commercially available at 12 inches. He tinkers with the rods, sometimes exploiting their straightness into grand equations of geometric precision; elsewhere, he achieves organic, flowing monuments. “A nail, like a line, can and will do almost anything,” he said. “What can’t you draw with a line? The nail is just my line.”
Eschewing sketching, Bisbee works directly with the metal – hammering, welding, bending. A small crew helps him now, many former students, “my team of handsome athletes,” who have helped unleash him to explore and explode his sculptures.
“You’d think that you would sort of choke off your options and potential, the more you keep excavating one item,” he said. “but I find it’s the opposite – it explodes. There are so many amazing tangents that I haven’t had the time to take; so many great insights that are buried years back, so it’s ever expanding this mundane object.”
Here’s to filling life with amazing tangents (and nail-fringe necklaces).