Karsten Oaks’ meteoric rise to one of the most respected and trusted cold workers in the glass sculpture world was one of determination and vision. Oaks was in a BFA program at The Appalachian Center for Craft at Tennessee Technical University under the mentorship of Curtiss Brock when his vision evolved from a simple desire to be an artist using glass as a medium to a passion for learning all aspects of cold working (working with glass using no heat from a furnace or kiln). Oaks came to the realization that the necessity of working quickly with glass blowing or hot sculpting did not give him the creative time needed to fully think through his sculptures. He also determined that optical crystal is the material he wanted to work with. This decision was Oaks’ first major landmark, with his second being to graduate with his BFA in 4 years. That feat alone is almost unheard of.
After graduating, he made the next important decision and that was to surround himself with leading artists in the field of glass. Seattle, with its concentration of glass artists and the proximity to the renowned Pilchuck school, was Oaks’ choice to seek employment. His first job was working for Martin Blank, another pivotal moment in his career. Blank convinced Oaks that he should open his own studio doing the cold working for other artist’s needing those services. Blank also told him to keep in his sights formalizing what would eventually be his own body of work.
Oaks was very close to open his own studio due the list of respected artists that were utilizing his services to cold work their glass objects. He then met maestro Lino Tagliapietra. He was so impressed with Oaks’ work that Tagliapietra chose him as the only artist to cold work and finish Tagliapietra’s sculptures made in the US. This steady income allowed Oaks to finally open his own studio. During the following 2 years Oaks would, as time would permit, work on his vision. Then in September 2014 Bender Gallery was the first gallery to show his work. Since then Bender Gallery has exhibited Oaks’ sculptures at SOFA Expo Chicago, Art Palm Beach and Wheaton GlassWeekend with great response.
Oaks’ vision is not an extension of someone else’s work, it is an entirely new idea. The work is a breath of fresh air, work having never before been done. We guess that part of the reason is due to the fact that it is extremely labor intensive. Also, it is a large monetary investment in the way of materials needed to create the work. We like to think that it is due to Oaks’ vision that he could see past those hurdles to create what would be an original concept in sculpture. Original and unlike anyone else’s.
Using optical crystal is the only way to achieve the results that Oaks wants the beholder to experience. The way the object bends the light and color is both entrancing as well as mesmerizing. Even the color that Oaks chooses for embellishment is well thought out. The shape of the sculpture to a certain extent, dictates the color in Oaks’ mind. The pop of color gives the very much abstract sculpture a grounding. Often a discernible object appears from a momentary perspective. That momentary vision may give way to connecting with the piece on a more personal level. When this occurs it is almost unexplainable but it is there, even if only to you. This aspect makes Oaks’ sculptures even more personal in their effect on the individual that chooses to possess it.
Bear in mind That Oaks’ sculptures are extremely labor intensive, only allowing for him to create about one a month. So the reality is that while Oaks’ work will be desired by many, only a few will be fortunate to have one in their collection.
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.
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.
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 of 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.
2004-08 BFA in Glass, Appalachian Center for Crafts at Tennessee Technological University
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 2009 to Pre, Laura DeSantillana 2011 to Pre, Alessandro DeSantillana 2011 to Pre
Ongoing projects for artists including:
Preston Singletary, Raven Skyriver, Gary Hill, Eric Fischl, Norman Courtney, Paul Marioni, Dante Marioni, JP Canlis, Charlie Parriott, John Hogan, Jason Gamrath, Armelle O'Neill, Paul Cunningham, Lisabeth Sterling, Ryan Staub, Erich Ginder, Julie Conway, Danny White, Ben Cobb, Peter Wright, Allan Pack