Artists are always asked about their “influences,” and with good reason: They always have them.
Even more intriguing is the way a given artist construes her influences through her work.
A predilection for the Gothic style of the Middle Ages fuels Mount Angel artist Deborah Unger. Living in Germany for 20 years, she had ample opportunity to immerse herself in the real thing.
“I spent a lot of time looking at Gothic art,” she said. “It was my favorite part of every museum.”
Unger attended Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland where she majored in printmaking, mostly woodcut. While in Germany, she kept playing with wood, creating 3-D structures such as houses.
At the time, nobody was home.
“One day I was in an art store and I saw this linden wood,” she said. “I had ideas for carving things but I didn’t really know how to go about it.”
She just started carving – and found it “pretty cool.”
When Unger returned to Mount Angel five years ago, she was hungry for more instruction and ready to devote more time to pursuing her budding art form.
That is, so long as it does not cut into the time she loves to spend with Marius, her 15-year-old son.
Unger took classes at Chemeketa Community College, including Photoshop and Illustrator computer programs, which help her with her work restoring old photos.
She got involved with Silverton Arts Association, where she helped organize a life drawing class and was able to show her work at Borland Gallery.
Human figures began emerging from the wood; they became the “soul” inhabitants of the structures she has such a fascination for, whether houses, doorways or deep frames. She also makes their clothing and furniture.
Unger is now a Lunaria Gallery member and finds being in community with other artists inspiring and encouraging.
Her art and that of ceramic artist Julie Huisman are displayed in this month’s Lunaria show, ‘Function/Dysfunction.’
The comfortable size and, at first glance, doll-like figures of Unger’s sculptures easily draw you in – but, unlike a toy, it may be hard to look away.
The vignettes may evoke unsettling, nostalgic, even panicky feelings. Their postures, their trappings – and those ambiguous faces – can make one ponder, puzzle or identify.
Some poeple simply find them amusing.
Take the woman – or is she just a girl? – struggling under the weight of a house she is lugging on her back.
Another female form feels the walls and ceiling literally closing in on her.
Unger says her unusual sculptures stem a Gothic tendency, “piece as object.”
“They did a lot of altar pieces that folded up, for instance,” Unger said. “I’ve done a couple where the doors open. A lot of it is woodworking, a lot of it is carving, but it is not sculpture in the round as in classical, where you can walk around it and it is interesting from all sides.
“It’s more like a 2-D image that’s in 3-D,” she said. “It really has a viewpoint from which you see it rather than from all angles – especially when it’s enclosed in a box with a glass front.”
Unger finds satisfaction in creating these simple-yet-complex story scenes.
“It’s my personal feeling that there’s a special value to 3-D art,” she said. “You don’t see a lot of it and there are no prints; wood sculptures are always one of a kind.”
Unger often works out her ideas for sculptures by first painting a watercolor version; several of these accompanying pieces are part of the show. She is currently at work on an idea that has been “surfacing” for some time…
“It’s a wave and then a woman – just her head and maybe an arm out of some water that kind of has some little swells in it – and this wave’s going to come and get her and there’s nothing she can do to stop it.”