John Bisbee is often referred to as the "nail guy" around town. Or, at least, whenever I mentioned his name people said, "Oh yea! The nail guy!" He's built quite a name for himself and his work can be seen everywhere from local shows, to New York and beyond. He's been working with nails for about 30 years, turning this everyday, overlooked, utility object into abstract forms, landscapes of iron, and works of art. It's almost like an optical illusion to see them in person. You really can't believe that such a structure could be made entirely of nails, but they are. The enormity of scale of some of these pieces is astonishing and give such a sense of grandeur, that it seems like they each deserve their own space just to take it all in.
Together with his partner Emilie, they spend their days creating and supporting each other in their artistic endeavors. You can tell they work as a team and there is no limit to where their artistry can stretch. Oh, and their two cute dogs are ever present as well!
Describe your work in three words.
Nails, Always Different.
You mentioned you were one of the first artists in Fort Andross. How did you find the space and what drew you to it?
You can't miss the space. It hulks over the Androscoggin river, and it drew me in because it's epic.
Did you grow up in a creative family? How did your upbringing influence your artistic process?
All families are creative. Some of them just don't know it. My family was more academic, which didn't affect me much.
How did the use of nails start in your art?
Nails are an ancient friend; I've been cobbling together little bits of wood with them since I can remember. And they're cheap. And they smell nice.
How many nails do you think you’ve used since you first started working with them?
Well over a million.
How do your designs develop?
Sometimes very slowly, and other times in a flash.
What has been the best thing you’ve done for your artistic career?
Not seeking tenure.
What has been the most challenging thing about your artistic career?
Not seeking tenure.
How does having a creative/artistic partner influence you and your process? Do you feed off of one another? Brainstorm together?
Absolutely, I am in love with a brilliant nut. Our work is very different, but our minds are the same. There's lots of bouncing.
When you’re feeling stale or stagnant with your work, how do you work your way out of it?
Best advice anyone has ever given you…
It's important to be hated by the right people. Willie Nelson told me that.