Nearly 30 years ago, sculptor John Bisbee was exploring an abandoned house, scavenging for items he could incorporate into found-object sculptures, when he accidentally kicked over a bucket filled with rusty, old nails. To the college student's surprise, the nails that fell out had fused into a bucket-shaped chunk of metal, forming a solid object. Since then, the Maine-based artist has used nails as his sole medium to create a stunning array of large-scale sculptures and installations, keeping true to his motto of “Only nails, always different.”
Bisbee demonstrates his creativity and the versatility of the medium by hammering, bending, and welding 12-inch spikes together into unlikely shapes and forms. His works of art range from solid, geometric structures to dense entanglements of twisted wires to delicate, floral arrangements that flow across walls. “A nail, like a line, can and will do almost anything,” Bisbee says in an interview with American Craft. “What can't you draw with a line? The nail is just my line.”
According to Bisbee, we'll be seeing more incredible nail sculptures from him for many years to come. He shares, “You'd think that you would sort of choke off your options and potential, the more you keep excavating a single item, but I find it's the opposite–it explodes. There are so many amazing tangents that I haven't had time to take; so many great insights that are buried years back, so it's ever expanding, this mundane object. I'm quite happy saying now that I will only work with nails.”
We were lucky enough to be able to ask the artist a few questions about his work and creation process. Read that exclusive interview below!
You've been working with nails as your sole medium for nearly 30 years. Was there ever a time when you felt tempted to pursue something else?
No, I will never leave nails, and they have also committed to me, but I also have a lifelong obsession with writing and making my own music.
How has your approach to art changed throughout the years?
I has become simultaneously more serious and more joyful
Can you walk us through your creative process?
I allow myself a significant amount of play, and I bring to that play a concentrated level of belief. If I believe deeply enough in what I'm playing with, something awesome always happens, and then the work begins.
What are the challenges of working with nails?
They are difficult, and I love them for that, but throughout the years my skill has evolved enough to continually coax new verbs from them.
What do you hope to convey with your sculptures?
It is my desire to give the audience an open, but scripted invitation to the potential of everything.
Are there any exciting new projects you have in mind for the future?
Whatever I'm working on is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me. My philosophy is that if one is not looking back on your past with a tinge of shame, something has gone terribly wrong. Always be peaking.
Thanks so much for the interview, John!