Self-taught as a visual artist, Unger’s training in poetry at Interlochen Arts Academy, Naropa, and Stone Circle brings a depth and lyricism to his visual works. Music, myth and metaphor are woven into his work, a foundation of story and song. Using a variety of media, he seeks to marry construction and context. Materials and techniques are chosen for their impact on narrative, meaning and nuance as much as for form or function.
To make art that will last, he looks to the past for examples that still delight after millennia— believing the simplest forms are most likely to remain relevant. Natural history, music, literature and ancient art are his strongest inspirations.
From performing his poetry on stage at Lollapalooza in 1996, to bartering a mosaic to a bank as a down payment for a house and studio, to displaying an American flag created from over 20,000 Budweiser bottle caps at the 2015 Stagecoach Music Festival, Unger’s art practice has been as much about making good stories as making good art.
More than 60 restaurants, hotels, churches and public spaces have installed Sculptural Firebowls as dramatic decor and outdoor gathering spaces.
Sculptural Firebowl clients include Google, Calvin Klein, Sandals Ochi, Rum Fire at the Sheraton Waikiki, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. A list of firebowls you can visit can be found here.
Sculptural Firebowls have been featured in magazines, newspapers, books and popular TV shows, including The New York Times Business and Home sections, The Chicago Tribune, Variety, Craft Magazine, Hearth and Home, Casual Living, HGTV’s Decked Out and My Yard Goes Disney, DIY Network’s Man Caves, Epic’s Castle series and several episodes of CBS’ Hawaii Five-0.
Unger’s mosaics have been commissioned by the American Museum of Natural History, Budweiser and Stagecoach Music Festival, Chicago Public Art Group, Chef David Burke, Northeastern University, MA, Limelight Lodge, Aspen, CO, Lakeview Baseball Club, Chicago, IL and many residential clients and private collectors.
His mosaics have been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, Atlas Obscura, the book and touring exhibit Mythic creatures: and the impossibly real animals who inspired them from the American Museum of Natural History, JoAnn Locktov’s seminal book Mosaic Art + Style: Designs for Living Environments, Garth Johnson’s 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew, the cover of Pompei, Italia by Francesco Erbani, the cover of Envisioning Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics by Kameelah L. Martin, The Toronto Star, Microsoft Home Magazine, and AHA! A House For Arts on WMHT, PBS.
Using marble, stone and precious gems I am creating a series of 14 mosaics that replicate as closely as possible the 16th Century anatomical engravings of Bartolomeo Eustachi. Each mosaic is four by seven foot (86.25” high x 50.25” wide including the steel frame) and presents the figures at life size— viewers can stand before them and see anatomy as though looking in a mirror. Read more about this project and see the work in progress.
The original mosaics are not for sale— they will be kept together as a set. I am selling extremely high end archival prints of the mosaics that allow them to be reproduced at life size with even the smallest details, colors and texture readily visible.
Anatomy Set In Stone has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, Atlas Obscura, Boing Boing, Laughing Squid and Kottke.org. Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, NY debuted the Anatomy Mosaics in 2019
La Siren III was commissioned by the American Museum of Natural History for the traveling exhibition Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids. I’m told it’s one of the most popular exhibits the museum has ever toured.
Current Exhibition Dates (more TBD):
Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, CA: May 27, 2017 to September 10, 2017
Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids, MI: November 11, 2017 to May 20, 2018
Peoria Riverfront Museum, Peoria, IL, June 23, 2018 to September 30, 2018
Sculptural Firebowls handmade by artist John T. Unger are luxury fire features valued for exceptional craftsmanship, beauty and design. These American made firepits, hand cut from recycled steel, have shipped to all 50 states and over 20 countries.
John T. Unger’s iconic Great Bowl O’ Fire Sculptural Firebowl was the very first artist-created decorative fire pits to be made from the ends of recycled propane tanks.
There’s a poetry to the design— using a torch to cut flame images into a flammable gas storage tank to create a firebowl which can then be plumbed for gas is a perfect example of how I like materials and ideas to work together. Even the natural patina relates directly back to flame in it’s coloration— fiery reds, oranges, yellows and blacks. That kind of layered metaphor is what I enjoy most about working with recycled materials.
The Great Bowl O’ Fire holds a wealth of symbolism. On every Great Bowl O’ Fire I cut, there is a stylized flame in the shape of a phoenix rising through the embers to symbolize the rebirth of scrap steel into something new and wonderful. The phoenix is always the first flame I cut into the bowl, the beginning of its transformation. A hand-shaped flame attests that the sculpture is hand-carved with a torch. The remaining shapes are the natural forms of fire, ingrained in my hand from a life spent working with fire to create beauty from metals.
As Gabriel Guzman writes in The Daily Book of Art:
Who would have thought that a bowl of fire could be so beautiful? Hand-cut out of recycled steel, these bowls combine sculpture and function to create unique works of art with industrial flair that provide warmth and an exciting centerpiece for events. When in use, the flame-like edges of these bowls cast mesmerizing shadows that dance across the ground, acting as part of the art.
It’s easy to see why fire features have become such a popular element of landscape design: The warmth and focus of an open hearth under the stars provides a great space for socializing and conversation, extending the living area of your home to the outdoors. An evening around the fire is a pleasurable pastime, as flames capture the imagination, sparking ancient memories spanning back to the dawn of time. The constant movement and change of fire is both soothing and exciting, the perfect backdrop for tall tales, quiet reflection or intimate moments.
Gather friends and family to celebrate around a roaring blaze year-round. The raised bowl allows you to sit comfortably without having to lean forward to stay warm. Keep your feet toasty, tucked below the rim of the bowl and bask in the full-body radiance that a raised firebowl offers. An outdoor fire pit is a great way to extend the outdoor living season.
John T. Unger Sculptural Firebowls are unique works of art hand-crafted from 100% recycled steel. No two are exactly alike, as every bowl is drawn and cut free-hand. Designed to become an everlasting part of your family tradition, Sculptural Firebowls will last generations in any climate with no maintenance. All designs ship ready-to-fit for clean-burning propane or natural gas burners to minimize emissions and risk of accidental fire.
Sculptural Firebowls make a stunning focal point for yards, patios and gardens. Unlike many outdoor firepits which look dirty or empty when unlit, Sculptural Firebowls function as gorgeous sculptural elements even when not in use. In sunlight, the designs cast intriguing shadows both inside and outside the bowl. When lit, the bowls cast flickering shadows as lively as the fire within.
Someone who has embraced the idea of fire as an art centrepiece is John T. Unger, an American sculptor and artist who produces dramatic steel fire bowls, hand drawn and cut, with flame-shaped outlines.
Wow!!!! I am looking forward to having it - saw the piece in the New York Times yesterday, looked at your website, acted on a whim and now it's on its way. Magic…
This will be placed on the bank of the Black River, Georgetown County, SC, a tidal river in the woods, an area my family has lived since the 1700's. It will be beautiful ... and everyone will love it!
We are very excited to put it up next to our back-lit sign and right next to our patio with flames coming out of the pillars!!! The firebowl looks awesome and we can't wait to see it all set up!!! The bowl looks AWESOME!!