The human condition, I suppose, is to be capable of deep, thorough, feel-it-ache-in-your-bones love, and to be mortal anyway, and know you’ll someday lose it, one way or the other. It is, inevitably, not fair.
My partner/husband/best friend/co-conspirator/co-writer/better half/true love of my life, Karsten Soltauer, left us Monday morning. But he also left behind a body of artwork that speaks even more loudly now that he has lost his beautiful voice.
I used to love talking with Karsten on the phone. I’d call him from the car on my drive home, even though my office is only about a mile away, because it gave me a few minutes to hear his voice on the phone. It was so sexy and soothing. I wish I had a recording of him telling me he loved me forever, as he did many times each day.
Before we met, he’d experienced a loss of his own: his ex-girlfriend of nearly eight years had left him about a year prior, and he was nursing a broken heart. He channeled that pain into working through a series of marbled paper found-image pieces. Karsten spent 80 hours per piece studying the random curls of color, shading the contours of the swirled patterns to reveal images. Like watching clouds for shapes, but then tracing them with marker into the sky so other people could see what he saw.
Despite many, many experiments with style, form, and media, this was the central theme of Karsten’s life-long artistic vision: finding what no one else would have spotted, or bothered to look for.
I think perhaps the key to processing a loss this immense and intense is to embrace the bothness of it: I have never experienced one emotion without the potential for its complement. I am nowhere near the master observer of absurdity that Karsten was, but I have been his student for nearly fifteen years and maybe I can see it a bit more than most. But if devastating loss is a swing to the left from the emotional equilibrium, I sense there is the opening of an often unnoticed rather large area to the right, into gratitude, appreciation, abundance, humor, and moments of joy and peace.
Like Karsten’s “Curvature of the Mind” series, as he later named the swirling marbled pieces, there are treasures to be found in the chaos. You just have to really look for them. And pencil stroke by pencil stroke, you shade out what doesn’t contribute to the picture you want to remain. But the bothness of it is that just as the oil and water needed to be mixed to make the paper, and the darker shadowing needs to be drawn in to see the colorful image more clearly, so do the dark emotions bring contrast to the lighter ones, and we can seek those out if we choose to. At least, that’s my hope.