“May I confide in you”, it started innocuously enough. The business mixer was actually a good one, which is rare, good conversation, nice people. Some actual leads being generated. It was a good mixer. I just happen to have brought a challenging and depressing personal situation to said mixer. There was also two-for-one drinks, and the pleasant surprise of Karsten.
Karsten Soltaur was not someone I could ‘technically’ call a close friend on that Tuesday, certainly a friend of mine. But technicalities could not limit Karsten. He was far from ‘technically’ anything. ‘Incomparable’ is probably the best single word to describe him, but a bunch of pictures do it better, and first hand experience does it best. And he said, “Yeah, man. You can confide in me any time”. I could tell he understood right away, so very little explanation was needed. The rest of the evening’s conversation was my enthusiasm for his art, and that I wanted to introduce him to a few gallery owners. We left saying “let’s get together this week”.
I called on Wednesday and we scheduled a morning appointment for the next day. I realize now that this was the first time I’d spent time with just he and I. I was working my way out of some devastating news of which I confided in him two days prior. So the prospect of this appointment really raised my spirits. Little did I know how much it would.
The day began at 10. From just inside the front door we stood for at least an hour exploring two of his brilliant works of art. One was a colored pencil and ink drawing with such illusional depth that I lost myself in it’s facets. The depth was a product of Karsten’s meticulous craft. The other was what could be categorized as pop-art but delivered a blunt social commentary and a very subtle interpersonal message. We spoke about his process, my creative imagination, his emotional investments, my emotional attachments, his desire to play, and my desire to be desired. We compared visions and preferred mediums—I am intimate with digital and he with analog.
I marveled at the intricacies and oddities found in his studio. There are random objects set in mind-bending, humorous arrangements. He has posted numerous iterations of materials like paper, upholstery, plexiglass, and painted vinyl record slices. There are small paintings, sketches on tracing paper overlaid with Xerox copies of other sketches. There are enlargements of coloring book outline drawings and clip art. Post-it notes are stuck here and there with poignant phrases and suggestions. Notes without adhesive are tacked to pertinent pieces of art. There’s a tool wall with nails in seemingly random places but for the tools and supplies hung from them in such order. There’s a table saw, and colored glass bottles, painted clips lined up in the rafters, and custom rigged light fixtures. If any three of the tens of thousands of items were disturbed the place would look chaotic but as it stands it’s perfectly ordered. In this studio we talked philosophy, eroticism, spirituality and investment portfolios. We discussed the philosophy of creativity and creative power through spirituality.
Lunch brought conversation about the politics of food, and then found the subject of my struggle coming to the surface through his simple invitation. I shared an Abraham-Hicks tool called ‘the emotional scale’. The scale is a list of emotions I may feel and the simple concept of reaching for a better feeling, an emotion higher up the scale. This tool helped me climb out of the lowest point on that scale which is despair. This spiritual wisdom struck a chord in Karsten. He had found similar ideas and guidance from Yi-Fu Tuan’s book ‘Escapism’, which he applies to his relationships and his art.
Karsten said, “I just want to spend my whole day, and every day playing”. And yet in the context of capitalism and mortgages ‘play’ can be hard to find. He showed me his newest concept, the third of the ‘Tripping the Continuum’ series. A piece he was going to entitle “The Nudes and The Suits”. It is an illustration of humanity’s path from nature to civilization and the longing for things more natural. He showed me some of his notes and sketches. “This last one really took a lot out of me”. He’s referring to ‘The Cosmic Primate; An Atheistic Evolutionist Bedtime Story’. He is also referring to the massive mental and artistic undertaking it took to produce Cosmic Primate. I hope, for anyone the opportunity to see Karsten’s work, and to see it in person.
By and large this day felt like an even give and take. There were moments I felt euphoric. I’d come from such depth four days earlier that this form of enlightenment, this form of conversation carried me very high. Exactly the place I needed to find. What I realized several days later was that Karsten intended to be an agent of healing for me. I’ve known hundreds of clergy though out my life and only two that were truly gifted caregivers. I’ve seen a total of 6 different counselors professionally and only one was actually helpful. This close friend, with a blue sole patch, administered more human-to-human care than the pros, and he did it without any sort of intrusion or awkwardness.
As we crept our way toward the exit we talked about the galleries, the emotional scale and plans for more play. Those plans were thwarted when three days later Karsten left us. The good news is he left behind his art, and his notes. And he left behind his healing. “Joe, man, typically I don’t like anybody. But you, I really like”. I have a sneaking suspicion that Karsten liked anyone who was genuine. Karsten made it easy to be genuine.
Thank you Karsten, my very close, loved friend.