Deborah Unger: Featured Artist
Wood sculpture, Printmaking
Home: Mt. Angel, Oregon, USA
During a recent visit to Lunaria, a lovely gallery in Silverton, Oregon, I came face to face with delicately carved figures with hand sewn clothes. I was struck by the artist’s ability to combine realism with metaphor. Each sculpture was a short story…and at the same time open to interpretation.
I contacted the artist, Deborah Unger, who was willing to be this month’s featured artist.
Do you have any early memories of doing art?
Growing up, I always enjoyed drawing. I remember drawing a fish in a fishbowl with a crayon and for some reason, I believe I was four at the time.
You have always enjoyed drawing. Did this enjoyment lead you to taking courses in art?
I received a Bachelor’s of Fine Art from Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. My major was in printmaking.
Printmaking? How interesting, because your sculptures are very far from printmaking. What lead you to that transition?
After graduating I moved to Germany and didn’t have facilities to do printmaking so I tried other media. And though I never considered myself a sculptor, three-dimensional work, particularly Gothic sculpture and altarpieces increasingly compelled me. One day I was in an art supply store and found a piece of linden wood so I bought it and tried my hand at carving. On my first attempt, I was trying so hard to coax a figure out of the wood that I didn’t really leave enough for clothing. Since I sew, I just made her a dress. So I guess I am a trained artist but a self-taught wood carver.
I love that story. I feel artists will create art with whatever is handy and speaks to them. Where do you get your ideas?
Because my art is metaphoric and more about the idea than the execution or process, inspiration is key. Sometimes an idea comes as a flash of an image relating to something I’m thinking about. Sometimes it’s a phrase that evokes an image. But sometimes inspiration needs to be helped along. If I need more ideas for work than come easily to me, I think about different images I find evocative and put them together. Often I add something I have a fear of, like fire or heights. That juxtaposing can spark ideas.
From how you talk about the ideas, it seems as if your metaphors or messages are very personal. Do you collaborate on art projects or mostly work alone?
As most artists do, I work alone. I’ve always thought how strange it feels to make something that can be intensely personal, essentially in secret, and then bring it out to show people. You have to get to that point where you don’t take rejection of it personally, even though what you’ve created is very personal.
There are times when I wish I had some feedback while I’m working. It can help you see things you’ve missed in your own work but it can also lead second-guessing and losing your vision so it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.
Would you be willing to share a few of your works and a little about them?
I find mythical creatures which are part human part animal very interesting and think lend themselves nicely to metaphor. That is how The Changeling came about. I was wanting to do some kind of hybrid when “Buck Boy” came to me. As is typical with the way I work, the image comes first and I figure out what it means later. The meaning is clear to me on this one since at the time my son was a teenager.
I noticed that many of your sculptures have to do with male and female relationships.
This sculpture combines images which I commonly use; houses, relationships between men and women and heights.
“Blind Leading the Blind”
I’m not sure anymore what made me think of piggy back rides and someone covering your eyes, but suddenly it had a slightly uncomfortable aspect to me. The not being able to see was what I think it was, so I thought it would be interesting if neither one could see. I think this is a metaphor for relationships in that you never know what’s ahead of you and also about how we handicap those in our lives and ourselves.
Thank you, Deborah, for sharing your art work and letting us peek behind the curtain of your inspiration. Thank you for being this month’s featured artist.