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Only Nails, Always Different, Is An Apt Motto For This Hardware-Using Sculptor

Nails. Not a very exciting subject, unless you”re looking to fasten something to something else and you”ve just found a nail of the perfect length. Most people see them as utilitarian pieces of hardware that are used when creating something else. They hold houses, furniture and more together, but rarely does anyone see them, let alone think about them.

Sculptor John Bisbee, however, appreciates nails like perhaps no one else does. His love for nails began in college, when he was searching an abandoned house for materials to use in a project. He kicked over a bucket of rusty nails, only to find that the nails inside had rusted together, fusing to form the shape of the bucket. And that was when Bisbee realized nails could be used for way more than carpentry.

The sculptures are often quite large and, as you can imagine, very heavy.

About thirty years later, nails are still Bisbee”s sole medium, in particular a 12-inch spike model known as the Common Bright. His motto is “Only nails, always different.” Now 49, he”s still discovering new things to do with nails. For what seems like a rigid medium, Bisbee manages to create organic, flowing sculptures and installations. These include pieces that are mounted on walls and those that are arranged on the floor, as well as freestanding pieces. The nails are welded, bent, hammered and otherwise fastened together, and, due to their size and complexity, require a lot of tinkering to get right. Today, Bisbee has a small crew of assistants, mainly his students, to help him on his projects. He”s an artist in residence at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

The sculptures can be airy and delicate (and dog-approved)…

…or solid and weighty.

After working with nails for three decades, Bisbee says he is still finding new ways to use them in art and continues to be amazed at their diversity. “You”d think that you would sort of choke off your options and potential, the more you keep excavating a single item,” he said in an interview with American Craft, “but I find it”s the opposite–it explodes…it”s ever expanding, this mundane object.”

He likens the simple, humble nail to a timeless staple of art making: the line. “A nail, like a line, can and will do almost anything. What can”t you draw with a line? The nail is just my line.”

Via Colossal|American Craft