28 posts from sculpture

Face of Spades Masks from Recycled Shovel Blades

TotempolemaskskyInspired by traditional mask designs from all over the world, each Face of Spades carving is made from 100% recycled materials— breathing new life into the atoms of the abandoned.

Shovels retired after a life of hard labor are reborn as playful, intriguing masks— faces peering back as if astonished by their own renewed existence. From whimsical, cartoonish expressions exaggerated for impact, to hauntingly beautiful adaptations of traditional tribal designs, the collection features 24 designs resplendent in their individuality. Stoic or serene, silly or insouciant, their glances enhance the indoors and outdoors alike. A single mask makes an excellent accent piece, but the most exciting display is to group a series of the shovel-mugged characters to create your own custom totem pole.

The tradition of masks has haunted and enchanted the dreams of man for millennia. Rain forests hide glaring eyes and snarled lips amongst twisted vines and water-wet branches as shamans craft faces to protect and faces to defend. Masks of the Far East embellished with their red and black lacquered paints give character to the actors of old and knit the fabric of stories for generations. What do they foretell of your destiny? Will they ward off evil or draw in spirits that bless? Display the Face of Spades series as a single mask, or combine them for a powerful grouped display to embellish fences, deck railings, or even to construct a forest of tree faces. Since the intricate designs are crafted freehand, without the use of guides and stencils, Face of Spades masks each contain their own unique spiritual fingerprint.

Whether a playful grin is more your style or a powerful sneer conveys your message, the Face of Spades series has character abounding. The expressions are drawn from within as if they had lain dormant within the metal for eons. Once exposed to nature's influence they'll turn a rich rust color, a perfect compliment to the flora and fauna that graces their newfound environs.

Since each mask is hand-cut, carving freehand without the use of templates, your mask may vary slightly from the photo shown. To preserve the mask outdoors, it's not a bad idea to spray it with WD-40 once a year or so.

The Face of Spades masks are currently out of production.

Face of Spades: Masks, Tree Faces or Totem Pole Heads
Shovelmask01 Shovelmask02 Shovelmask03 Shovelmask04
Shovelmask05 Shovelmask06 Shovelmask07 Shovelmask08
Shovelmask09 Shovelmask10 Shovelmask11 Shovelmask12
Shovelmask13 Shovelmask19 Shovelmask22 Shovelmask25
Shovelmask23 Shovelmask24 Shovelmask26 Shovelmask17
All Face of Spade Designs © 2009-2010, John T Unger

Mosaic Bear for the American Red Cross

Mosaic Bear for the American Red Cross
Free Spirit, Mosaic Bear 2005
Ceramic tile over fiberglass.
Exact dimensions unknown: Your basic life-size bear
Private Collection

Free Spirit was created for the 2005 fundraiser Great Northern Hunt for Bearable Art organized by The American Red Cross of Northern Lower Michigan. An anonymous donor sponsored one of the bears and specifically requested that I mosaic it. I couldn't get anyone to spill the beans as to  this mystery benefactor's identity, but I'd like to thank them here for picking up the tab on my entry to the outdoor art project. 

The life-size fiberglass bears are based on a sculpture by Glen McCune commissioned by the Red Cross as a follow-up to their 2003 Fish-In, which featured over 50 outdoor fish sculptures and raised more than $300,000 for local Red Cross services.

If you're curious how long it takes to cover such a large sculpture in tile, you can follow along with the more or less daily blog posts I posted while working on the project: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, Day Seven, Day Nine + Ten, Day Eleven + Twelve, The Auction!

As shown below, my bear was chosen to greet everyone as they first came in to the auction tent.

Mosaic Bear for the American Red Cross

Little Red Riding Hood Narrative Sculpture

little Red riding hood sculpture
Little Red Riding Hood Narrative Sculpture, 2006
Recycled steel,

8.75" H x 20.25" W x 10" D
Private Collection
Collaboration with Mya Smith

Little Red Riding Hood is a narrative sculpture that my daughter Mya and I collaborated on. The drawing is hers, the cutting and welding I did. I love the way that she used the tree and the headboard to separate the story into three panels with three scenes.

This one was almost the end of the process, because I made her re-draw the woodcutter about 12 times to get more of a dynamic swing to his axe… she was really frustrated by that, but in the end we both felt the results were worth it.

little red riding hood detail little red riding hood detail little red riding hood detail
click thumbnail to view larger image. enlarge

Sad Bunny Sculpture

sad bunny
Sad Bunny, 2006
Recycled steel,

17.5" H x 18" W x 6" D
Private Collection
Collaboration with Mya Smith

Sad Bunny is a collaboration I did with my daughter Mya, one of many sculptures we did this summer using her drawings and my welding and cutting chops. If you click on the left hand thumbnail below you'll see what I think is the coolest feature of this piece: the bunny's shadow has a totally different expression on his face… an angry, evil expression. Of course, you have to get the angle of the light just right to reproduce it, but I think it's kind of a cool hidden allegory. Most of the mean people I've met in life were hurt themselves at some point (I mean, true enough to be trite, right?). But having the sad bunny's shadow take on an evil persona is awesome. I should really build a lightbox around it that forces the shadow to the correct angle, but I like the piece as it stands.

The steel is recycled plate from the scrapyard, and the plants are bits left over from cutting out the flames on the Firebird Grill.

Mya Bunny 02-1 Mya Bunny 03
click thumbnail to view larger image. enlarge

The 3 Little Pigs: A Story in Steel

3 little Pigs steel sculpture
3 Little Pigs Story in Steel, 2006
Recycled steel,

14" H x 26" W x 6" D
Collaboration with Mya Smith
Private Collection

My daughter Mya is interested in making comics and she's pretty amazing at it…draws and writes very well. So when she came out this summer, I thought it would be cool to collaborate on some narrative steel sculptures together. She picked the stories, and decided how to lay out the image so that it would carry a narrative without words. I did the cutting and welding and offered a wee bit of editorial assistance in the few places where I thought the image or flow of the story could be stronger. Even though we worked pretty closely together on these, I think Mya could have done them alone if she wasn't a little bit afraid of the sparks in the shop.

The house is made from an old refrigerator drawer and the rest is recycled steel plate. The wind from the wolf's mouth is copper plated welding rod. The plants are scrap left over from cutting out the flames on the Firebird Grill.

This piece sold to Checkered House Gallery the minute Tess saw it.

Mya 3Pigs 2-2 Mya 3Pigs 3-2
click thumbnail to view larger image. enlarge

Recycled Metal Critters made from Cars

Fire-Breathing Dogzilla, 2006
Recycled steelfrom antique cars, rivets, bottle cap.
26" H x 33" W
Private collection

I've always been a sucker for fire breathing acts, and somehow, it just seemed like Dogzilla needed get in on some of that action. But then, I'm also the guy who makes his cat stand and walk on two legs to get her treats and, yeah, the guy that taught his daughter fire breathing last summer. More circus flavored art is in the works, I think. I really like the way this one came out.

The work below are various examples of small wall hanging sculpture in recycled steel. I photographed them with pennies to give a sense of scale.

click thumbnail to view larger image. enlarge

Little Mermaid
20" H x 24" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 001-1

Blue Striped Bee
13.5" H x 17" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 002-1

Dogs Chase Tails
9.5" H x 11" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 003-1

Funky Alien
15.5" H x 10" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 004-1

One Big Eye
15" H x 9" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 005-1

Big Fish
9" H x 30.5" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 006-1

Big Fish
24" H x 27" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 007-1

Little Fish
10" H x 16" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 008-1

24" H x 28" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 009-1

Alarmist Hedgehog
6.5" H x 13" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 010-1

Happy Little Creature
7" H x 16" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 011-2

Happy, Funky Bird
12.5" H x 9" W
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 012-1

dimensions unknown
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 013

Mad Cat
dimensions unknown
Custom Order Item

Cut Metal Sculpture 014

Big Metal Fish Sign

Big metal fish sign
Aluminum + Copper Fish Sign, 2005
Recycled Aluminum, copper and plywood.
51" H x 96" W x 1" D

This was originally going to be a sign for the studio…  I got this far with it and decided that I liked it better as art. I made it before I had a plasma cutter, so the whole thing was done with shears and a jigsaw.

I especially like the way that the copper fin near the gills came out all ripply and dimensional. I had intended it to lay flatter, but the copper got all bent up while I was cutting it and actually looked much better that way. It's pretty common that the best features of a piece will be the mistakes… I could certainly have flattened it out the way I had intended it to be, but so often what makes art be art is seeing the benefit of an error before you correct and having the sense to leave it in.

Haitian Style Merman Sculpture

merman sculpture
Haitian Style Merman, 2006
Recycled steel.
26" H x 8" W x 3.5" D
Private Collection

This sculpture reminds me a lot of the graphic style used by Haitian artists who make cut steel art from 55 gallon drums. Which makes me really happy, since usually I can't even touch those cats for raw style. It's just one of those things that can't be faked.

I got lucky on this one… it was a piece of steel that was left over from some other cut out pieces I was working on, and I could kind of see the design struggling to get out. So I made a few more cuts, emphasized a few things, threw in a little bit of detail, and there it was.

Folk Art Mermaid Sculpture

Folk art Steel mermaid
A Mermaid  and her Fish, 2006
Recycled steel,

54" H x 37" W x .25" D
Collection: Jerry's Sandwiches, Chicago, IL

Here's a bold, graphic sculpture made from recycled car steel… The corrugated steel in the background is not part of the piece, it's the wall of my office (familiar as the backdrop of many of my photos). This Mermaid is 54" tall by 37" wide. She's similar in style to Atlas: World Famous, but rather than being a free standing piece, the mermaid is wall hanging.

A Mermaid  and her Fish Was puchased by Mark Bires to adorn the walls of Jerry's Sandwiches, 1045 W. Madison Street, Chicago IL. I hear they have amazing food, and I'll definitely be sampling their menu on my next trip to Chicago.

Below is a detail image of this sculpture.

folk art mermaid sculpture

Atlas World Famous Sculpture

Atlas World Famous sculpture
Atlas: World Famous, 2006
Recycled steel,

75" H x 48" W x 12" D

Atlas: World Famous is the first large-scale sculpture I've made using antique steel to do collage. It's a lot of fun for me because it's a way to go back to my roots in the folk art/pop culture vernacular where I started my art career. The sculpture is 75" high x 48" wide x 12" deep, which means that Atlas himself is pretty much life-size. As you can see in the images below, the sculpture is two sided, with the image reversed on one side.

World Famous folk art Atlas World Famous 01 World Famous sculpture Atlas World Famous
click thumbnail to view larger image. enlarge

Below is the image this sculpture is based on. It's one of my all-time faves… a couple years ago I did an Atlas mosaic in glass and bottle caps using the same image. The original is from the Mexican Loteria deck, a traditional game similar to Bingo. Teresa Villegas did a very cool updated version of the game which has now been published in in a handsome book. I highly recommend checking out her site devoted to the project, which provides a good deal of background on the game and images. You can also learn more by visiting this website from Boston University on the History of the Mexican Loteria Card Game.

El Mundo, Loteria Card
John T. Unger