Since seeing John Bisbee's show at the Portland Museum of Art last month, I’ve been pondering the nature of artists’ materials and whether they are barrier or boon in providing access to the spiritual. Bisbee works with oversize nails of different lengths, which he refers to as common spikes. It’s true that if you take a spike and scratch a contemporary artist, you’re likely to find traces of Duchamp or Warhol somewhere in there and that these were artists whose work ostensibly negated the spiritual.
But is it the spikes, or the way Bisbee uses them, that encourages the viewer to think spiritual thoughts? His sculptures are variously objective, provide food for the mind, and embody natural forces. Having seen his work before, I had come to the museum expecting to find something of the other-worldly, but it was not until I got back home that I was able to let go of my sense of awe at the extreme physicality of materials and technique, and revel in the multiplicity of patterns which is where, ultimately, the spirituality resides.