This week my family visited the studio of artist John T. Unger in Hudson, New York. John is an old friend of mine, and he makes an appearance in my past three books. (The acknowledgements in Steal, and quoted in Show and Keep Going.) This was the first time I got to visit him since he moved upstate about half a decade ago.
John is probably best known for his firebowls, which are featured in fancy places all over the world. Here’s a pile of negative steel scraps from his cuts. (John’s so good even his by-products are works of art.)
But most exciting and illuminating for me was seeing his newest project — his anatomical mosaics — in person. (Featured recently in The Smithsonian and Atlas Obscura.) John told me about his plan to recreate Eustachi’s drawings in stone years ago, and I must admit, I thought it sounded like a quixotic task. These things simply must be seen to believed.
I love a lot of John’s work, but I can’t say enough good things about the mosaics. You can tell that John is firing on all cylinders with this work, pushing his sharp mind and skills to the edge. What was really cool is spending the afternoon in John’s house, looking at his previous work, and realizing that a lot of the DNA of the project is contained in earlier work. For example, take another look at the firebowl scraps and then look closely at the ear in the mosaic above — a very Unger-esque shape!
Another stunning thing about the works is their scale — these suckers are big! They’re almost overwhelming in person, and I can’t wait to see a whole room full of them.
John likes to say, like a lot of artists, he never really grew up. We had lots of fun together: playing his detuned honky-tonk piano, chasing his cats, and visiting his favorite quarry near the house. (He even threw together a mosaic starter kit for my six-year-old.) Here he is, dreaming of trespassing:
If you are a museum curator or gallery owner, trust me: you are going to want to get involved with this work. More here.