If you go to the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland to see “American Steel,” the new exhibition by sculptor John Bisbee of Brunswick, Bisbee does not want you to stroll through the gallery, stroke your chin thoughtfully as you gaze at the works, murmur a few platitudes, and then head out for a lobster roll. For this show, Bisbee—who calls himself “a fervent and lifelong abstractionist”—has something to say, and it’s not couched in subtlety: “I want to invite people in, punch them in the gut, give them a hug, and send them home.”

For more than thirty years Bisbee has been making art out of nails and nails only. Because his work was relentlessly abstract, it never carried an explicit message. Now it does. One wall of the gallery is covered with a simple message--DREAM ON--spelled out in letters that are perhaps 18 feet tall. Bisbee created the work in response to the heated debate over immigrants looking to find a home in America. Look closely and you’ll find a message within the message: the letters are barbed wire.

“I want to upset people or invigorate them,” Bisbee says. “But I also want them to feel like ultimately [the exhibition] is an optimistic experience. Because we made all these things—they were lovingly crafted. These objects, I love them. This a profound, optimistic act by me and others. This is pure love.”

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