Deborah Unger was born and raised in Mt. Angel, Oregon. She always enjoyed making art and took some art classes while at school. After graduating high school in 1982 she attended Advertising Art School in Portland which taught old-school graphics and design, including newspaper layout, product illustration and hand lettering. After a year there she realized graphic art wasn’t what she was interested in and left. She began working at a sign shop doing mostly silk screening and started attending Chemeketa Community College where she concentrated on art classes, especially life drawing and printmaking. In 1984 she started the BFA program at Pacific Northwest College of Art in printmaking.
After graduating in 1988 she moved to Germany where she lived for nearly 20 years. During that time she learned German and taught English as a second language to adults. Since she didn’t have access to printmaking facilities and had limited space, she began experimenting with different media. Eventually she found a piece of carving wood in an art supply store and began working in her current style. In 2007 she returned to Oregon.
With a BFA in printmaking, I had always considered myself a two dimensional artist. I never felt particularly drawn to classical or even modern sculpture. However, I did have a passion for medieval sculpture. I find Romanesque, Gothic and Early Renaissance art, and particularly sculpture, very compelling. I love the arcane symbolism, the hierarchy of scale and the richness of detail and color. This, I believe is what led me to working three dimensionally.
One day I found a carving block in an art supply store and took it home. I was trying so hard to coax a figure out of it that I didn’t leave enough material for clothing. So I decided to sew my figure a dress and have been working that way ever since.
I carve my figures from basswood using both hand and power tools. They are dressed in garments for which I make the patterns and sew. The figures are carved in components in order to accommodate the clothing. They are then dressed and arms or legs attached and the clothing sewn closed.
My figures often exist in environments which give context to the piece. Houses and forests are reoccurring elements in which the figures are often set. I use metaphor to describe personal and relational conflicts, making them reminiscent of what one might experience in a dream. These sculptures can be interpreted as ironic, metaphoric or amusing.