Born and raised in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Karsten took an interest in the arts at an early age. He started playing music when he was ten years old, playing a variety of instruments in his adolescence. As the son of a trained chef, Karsten grew up learning an appreciation of working with his hands in a creative way and enjoys cooking to this day.
In high school Karsten took as many art classes as he could. When he was sixteen, a friend introduced him to glass blowing, and he traveled to Tennessee to take his first classes. This sparked the beginning of Karsten’s love of glass to express his artistic vision.
Karsten received his B.F.A. in Glass from the Appalachian Center for Crafts in 2008. There Karsten was greatly influenced by his mentor Curtiss Brock, who also instilled in him the value of hard work. He initially was interested in blowing glass but when he was twenty he found that his ideas could be expressed more controlled and more clearly through cold working. Immediately after graduation Karsten moved to Seattle with the goal of working with and learn from some of the best artists in the field of glass.
Karsten also does freelance work for many artists which began in 2009 when he landed a job working for Martin Blank. Martin taught Karsten to create in a less regimented way than he learned at college and to trust his instincts. Since then Karsten has done cold working for John Kiley, Preston Singletary, Bertil Vallien and Lino Tagliapietra to name just few.
Cold working various projects for: Lino Tagliapietra 2010 to Pre, John Kiley 2010 to Pre, Martin Blank 2009 to 2012
Recent American Projects for: Bertil Vallien, Laura DeSantillana, Alessandro DeSantillana
Projects for artists including: Armelle Bouchet O'Neill, Nancy Callan, JP Canlis, Ben Cobb, Julie Conway, Norman Courtney, Paul Cunningham, Eric Fischl, Gary Hill, Jason Gamrath, John Hogan, Dante Marioni, Paul Marioni, Shelley Muzylowski Allen, Allan Packer, Charlie Parriott, Preston Singletary, Ryan Staub, Lisabeth Sterling, Cappy Thompson, Dave Walters, Danny White, Dave Willis, Peter Wright.
“As an artist, I’m not inspired by one solitary concept or action. Instead, I have several major influences which lend different aspects to my aesthetic. When I start a sculpture, I begin construction of the form. I think abstractly about fluid mechanics, and try to create a negative space within the form which gives a sense of movement to the sculpture. The process of construction itself inspires me as much as the form. I begin with blocks that are cut to approximate the overall shape, and then sand them white so that the form can be the sole focus.
The internal cutting is largely inspired by line quality and how it can be interpreted three dimensionally. I strive to make artwork that evokes feelings similar to the way the sharpness of handwriting or the gesture of one’s hands while talking can cause the viewer to feel an emotional connection. I often find myself drawn to more aggressive, defensive or harmonious work based largely on what is going on around me and in my own life.
When working on the design within the piece I’m using elements of dynamic symmetry such as spirals and ratios. Using different shapes in the sculpture while staying consistent with the proportions I can create a sense of harmony within what would otherwise be a disorganized form. Even after all the major reductive cuts have been made I leave some of the design to be laid out when the rest of the piece is almost complete. I feel that this mild sense of chaos through the work’s creation gives each piece its personality and character when it is finished.
After the glass is completely polished and I’ve had a chance to live with it, I use color to create a sense of contrast or transition. This is meant to tie together or introduce distinction. I feel the form should inform the color in a sense, creating unity or distinction in a sculpture should be mimicked by complimentary or contrasting colors. The color is meant to be the final extension of the form. It can help to draw the viewer in to the piece and then engage them and inspire exploration.
When I’ve finished with a piece I usually feel a compulsion to create the next one based on the previous successes. This comes in part from having completed pieces in front of me and being able to interact with the artwork. Beyond the individual forms I’m inspired by the potential of all my pieces to create compositions. This can only come by living with the work and moving them around each other. After I’ve finished something it then becomes grounds for new exploration and inspiration.”
ABOUT THE PROCESS
To fully appreciate how Oaks creates his work it helps to understand what cold working is. Oaks likes to call his process cold sculpting. In Oaks’ case it is the process by which one uses power tools to cut, grind and polish glass. Oaks first takes blocks of optical crystal and temporarily bonds them together to approximate the basic shape of the sculpture he wishes to create. He then marks up the structure to show where he is to remove portions of the material. Oaks then disassembles the structure and starts working on the pieces independent of one another. This allows him more freedom in the way he treats each piece. When the pieces are near completion, he permanently bonds them all together. Oaks then sands the entire sculpture turning it white to show the actual shape. At this point he makes a few adjustments and then polishes the sculpture. The last step is choosing the color to give the piece a life of its own. Oaks’ choice is based on the final shape and curves of the piece. Sometimes it is a tranquil piece, other times it is a piece full of energy. Whatever Oaks sees at that point of final sculpting dictates his choice of color.