Bisbee Wins Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant

Story posted November 14, 2006

Bisbee
John Bisbee takes a break from welding.

Sculptor John Bisbee, Bowdoin visual arts lecturer, has been awarded a prestigious grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Bisbee was one of only 20 contemporary painters and sculptors to receive the $25,000 award, which is granted annually through nominators in the arts community selected from across the country. Past recipients have included Tom Friedman, Tim Hawkinson, Kara Walker, and Mark Dion, among others.

“A nice woman called me this morning and I yelled and hung up,” quipped Bisbee, adding: “It’s a huge honor, most unexpected and appreciated. It is going to buy me a lot of nails, and buy me a lot of time to disappear into the woods and try to be a sculptor again.”

News of the Mitchell Foundation grant followed closely on the heels of Bisbee’s acceptance into the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., next summer, for his sixth residency there.

Bisbee is gaining national renown as one of the most important American sculptors working today. He wields his evocative works from 12-inch steel nails, which he variously welds or stacks to suit each space.

In his hands, noted one reviewer in The New Yorker, “the spikes are transformed into objects of surprising grace.”

Bisbee, who has been at Bowdoin since 1996, routinely divides his time between teaching and sculpting. This semester, he is teaching Sculpture I and Sculpture II, while overseeing several independent-study projects.

Bisbee sculpture
Helio, 2006, one ton of 12-inch spikes (stacked), diameter 84 x 9 inches. Photo courtesy Plane Space NY.

His current sculpture students were among those who inaugurated a new exhibition space at the Fort Andross Mill, The Coleman Burke Gallery, which Bisbee is developing with Bowdoin Visual Arts Department Chair Mark Wethli and Anthony Gatti, general manager of the mill complex. The show, titled "All the News That's Fit to Roll, Crumple, Tape, and Paint," featured newspaper-based works by Bisbee's and Wethli's students. The installation-based gallery will have its public debut in the spring.

“Hopefully, it will become the premier installation space in Maine, if not New England,” said Bisbee. “It’s just a huge, vacuous box with wonderful ambient light and 18-foot ceilings. It feels like it wants to be filled.”

Bisbee said he is looking forward to filling his own life with art-making, in anticipation of an upcoming retrospective of his works scheduled for 2008 at the Portland Museum of Art.

“I haven’t worked since my New York show at Plane Space gallery in May,” noted Bisbee. “I do that every year – I work and then I don’t. I think I’m going to flatten some nails. In my last show, they were stacked up, no welding. I can’t wait to find out what I’ll do. As soon as the semester’s over ….”

Among his other honors, Bisbee received the Rappaport Prize in 2003 and a Maine State Individual Artist Grant in 2000.

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