Flowers exhibited in a gallery, all made of steel. You can see, touch and even try to smell them.
In the case of John Bisbee’s sculptures, the sensations coming from his steel flowers are different from the ones that you touch and smell during springtime. Bound together, the 12-inch nails invoke a feeling of irony and beauty.
Bisbee has been welding steel together for 30 years. He stumbled on the brilliant idea of creating sculptures out of nails in a small accident when he knocked over a pail loaded with them and saw that they did not disperse after they were out, retaining their bucket form, as they were all rusted tight together.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine had an exclusive interview with the sculptor, as he was busy preparing for his next exhibition. He shares to us how he starts his day and process of designing:
“My day starts around 8:30 at the shop, where I meet up with my team of four handsome athletes, and if we don’t know what we’re doing we try to figure it out pretty quickly. If we all know what we’re doing, which is true bliss, then we just go and do it. Depending on the project that will usually involve a lot of forging and welding. My shop is small and very utilitarian. No wasted space. We have a forge, a pneumatic power hammer, numerous welders, a plasma arc, a hydraulic press, and a refrigerator filled with fresh growlers. I am profoundly blessed with a truly talented and inspirational team, and after working alone for.”
For 16 years after moving from Maine, Bisbee has been working on the banks of the mighty Androscoggin River. The shop doors open directly onto a stunning stretch of rapids with hourly bald eagle transits as he describes his workplace. He has been working exclusively with nails and almost exclusively welding them together. Bisbee shares:
“It was pointed out to me once that both nails and weld are industrial adhesives; nails being the oldest and arc welding the most modern. I always liked that that my work is created from two glues that never get to be enough on their own. But honestly, for me the nail is just a line, and a line can be infinite things. My motto has always been, only nails, always different. It’s a wonderful problem.”
And with his problem of nails, Bisbee has created grand pieces of art and has continued his design process, starting from the accident of knocking over a pail of nails. He describes his process:
“I try to embrace the accidents and find out what they’re trying to offer me. Each piece leads to the next, and sometimes it’s a brand new tangent. Often, I’m revisiting an older idea with a sharper eye. I believe most work is circumlunar in its inspiration. Ideas come and go, but we get better at following them.”
Bisbee creates his pieces with surface treatments. Most of the works get three coats of an archival lacquer, which creates a beautiful, deep satin finish that will not oxidize. If pieces are going outside, they are dipped in hot galvanization and get a sparkling silver that, over the years, turns into a beautiful, dull nickel finish.
It takes about a year and a half to create a cohesive body for Bisbee. Individual pieces can take anywhere from two weeks to six months. He loves to work three-dimensionally in space as well as on the wall.
His passion for using nails in his pieces continues to this day. As we asked the sculptor if he would be using other materials other than nails, Bisbee shares:
“I know it sounds ridiculously limiting to be proud of working with only nails for 30 years. Seems like a long time to me, too, but I finally feel like I’m on the verge of some wonderful discoveries that will justify my barren palette. I consider myself to be more obsessed with the nails potential today than ever before.”
Bisbee continues to inspire artists and sculptors alike and there is no stopping the man from creating more works and pushing the boundaries of pieces made from unconventional materials such as nails. His advice for budding young artists:
“Simply believe it. To become truly passionate about the beautiful struggle of a life steeped in creativity. It’s such a privilege. It’s the hallmark of our species.” Bisbee’s next exhibition is called “Floresco” and will open on July 9th at the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum, and will run through October 2015.