John Bisbee Opening

    Last night was the opening for Bright Common Spikes: The Sculpture of John Bisbee at the Portland Museum of Art. I happened to be in the museum a couple of weeks ago and met John as he was installing hundreds of flat metal pieces to the wall. John saw me watching his work and cheerfully introduced himself. John lives in my town and works in the art department of  Bowdoin college. Thin, athletic and 42, John has the spirit of Santa and the beard to match. He is effusive and welcoming and invited me to attend the opening. Last night, he paid as much attention to my six and eight year old as every other grown up who wanted to shake his hand. 
    Each metal sculpture in the show is fabricated from nails. In the piece I watched John install, the nails resemble sunbeams radiating from a center screw that mounts the piece against the wall. Unlike a kid’s drawing of a sunbeam or the original nail, the pieces are organic and curvy. One piece flows into the other. Some are mounted two layers against the wall and the result is a graceful intertwining lattice that winds it’s way up a huge three story wall. The piece is framed by the rectangular white spaces the artist has created by the absence of metal. My older son commented that the piece seemed to seep from the ceiling and drip down the wall.
    The opposite wall showed pieces that seemed to climb like vines and sprout from the wall on which they were hung. Spiky and twisted, these sculptures reminded us of the thorny vines that would have grown around Sleeping Beauty’s castle wall.
    The exhibit is extremely kid friendly. My younger son had fun finding patterns, and naming otherwise abstract designs. “This looks like bamboo.” When we viewed a huge airy ball of thin, welded nails he mentioned that he thought he could just roll it away. I asked if it would be heavy or light. He said light. In reality the piece probably weighed a ton but Bisbee has created a sculpture that uses white space as effectively as the skillfully welded nails that are his medium.
    Nails, a common object that anyone can relate to are turned into beautiful (yes beautiful) sculptures. I was constantly amazed that a nail, something so manufactured and tough, could evoke the feeling and look (Seed pods, cocoons, vines, a husk) of something organic.  The exhibit is on display from January 24th through March 23. If you need an excuse to come to Portland, this is it. Don’t forget to bring your children. After viewing the Bisbee exhibit you can take them to the Portland Children’s Museum next door.

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