Seeing through the swirl

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.

His 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.

Karsten Soltauer

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.

11 thoughts on “Seeing through the swirl

  • Beautifully written, Kate. My heart aches for you and I will continue praying that you find light in this darker time. I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Karsten, but from your many posts he seems like a guy people were blessed to have known. Thank you for writing and sharing.

  • Dear Kate…having met you and Karsten the one time, in Boston was quite a treat. Both of you were warm, witty and charming. I can say with some ease that losing Karsten, has left the world bereft of another wonderful, clever, eclectic soul. I send you my good vibes and great good wishes. (((hugs))) if you want ’em.

  • Kate, that was beautiful. The outpouring of writing about him right now is inspiring. I only hope I can leave such an impact on the people around me. Sounds like we lost a great citizen of Nashville and an amazing artist. I wish I could have known him in life, perhaps in another.

  • Deeply felt and beautifully written, Kate. We always loved seeing you and Karsten in the neighborhood and soaking up your wonderful energy. It makes me so happy that we were able to share our wedding with you both. Much love & light to you.

  • Kate, that was very moving and I’ll admit I am a bit choked up after reading it.I never had the privilege of getting to know Karsten well aside from seeing him with you at past events, but from the way you genuinely expressed the love you two felt in your words through various online mediums, and just the way you two were so obviously happy together when you two were out and about, I can tell you two loved a lifetime in the all too short of time you had together in this life, and I can only offer my sincerest and deepest condolences for your and your families’ loss. I pray that one day you two are reunited in the spirit.The love you two shared is one that I wish all of us could experience with someone at least once in our lives, even if for only a brief moment in time. I also pray that everyone who has the privilege of knowing you can ever half even half the strength that you have. What a better world this would be.Again, thank you for sharing your heartfelt words, and my deepest sympathies and prayers are with you.

  • Hey Kate-this is an amazing reflection on, love, loss, and the realties of life. Thank you for sharing! I have only met you one time and don’t know anything of Karsten, but wanted to say how great this was-really felt it.And I really enjoy Karsten’s art! I’m a fan…as a fellow artist, I can appreciate what he created, and loved hearing about how you got to witness his process. As I am sure he did yours too:)Thank you again and Blessings to you and Karsten.

  • Kate, beautifully said, painfully insightful. The day-to-day will be true, but trust in knowing that a month, a year, and five years from now, you will never be alone. Draw strength from loved ones of you and Karsten who feel, and will always feel, the hole as well. People will tell you that you are stronger than you realize. You can believe them.

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