Ecstacy – photo by Scott Hess courtesy

Artist Karen Cusolito has worked in many media, from painting to assemblage to the mighty large-scale metal humanoid sculptures that prowl like so many praying giants in the yard at American Steel Studios. Karen is also the founder at the massive Oakland, CA workshop; it is home to painters, glass artists, fabricators, soapmakers, a compost worm farm, urban greening experts, and performers and artists of all types.

The statement on Karen’s art website describes a body of work that “focuses on humanity and the environment and the delicate balance between the two” – and indeed, Karen’s artistic themes explore this balance…but this focus is also evident in her purposeful dedication to the use of salvaged materials, her selected creative venues, and her choices when it comes to collaboration and communitarian art.

Karen’s commitment to repurposed materials is evident in such a large-scale works as Ecstasy, Passage , and Dandelion — just three of her many sculptures comprised of salvaged steel. These works have been exhibited at festivals across the US, wowing audiences even before Karen fires up their propane-powered hearts, eyes, and other flame effects. In conversation, Karen describes a drive to create art that involves the viewer in “a pointed awareness that it’s not too soon to change things (on Earth).”

This December, Karen’s art is truly going global: a passersby’s glimpse of the towering metal figures in the yard at American Steel led to a call from a private collector in Brazil – an anonymous party who is dedicating his life to restoring the rainforest by amassing and preserving land around a national park near Rio. The buyer contacted Karen asking to purchase 7 of the ten sculptures for placement on his preserve, and to commission two other pieces for placement there as well.

At first Karen hesitated, reluctant to take the sculptures away from their home in Oakland, but eventually her heart told her to send the pieces to be seen by a new audience. These works will be in Rio around the time of the World Cup and for the 2016 Olympics, where they’ll reach an immense audience with her messages about humanity’s relationship to our environment.

Infinitarium. Photo by Extramatic courtesy

A 32-year vegetarian, Karen was moved the buyer’s dedication to the preservation of critical habitat and wild lands. “It felt,” she muses, “like I’d be doing more than just signing petitions can do.”

But Karen’s dedication to habitats doesn’t end with wilderness and animals. At American Steel, a 12’ x 20’ white frame built on an exterior wall awaits sharing with the neighborhood’s graffiti artists, whom Karen hopes will contribute to a constantly-evolving mural which will change with the seasons – blooms and sprouts in the spring, animals and sunshine in the summer, and autumnal colors and abundance at the approach of fall and winter.

Even as Karen plans her trip to place her art at the preserve in Brazil, she is underway on concept art for an altar for The Fifth Sacred Thing film. She enthusiastically enjoins her art to this project, she says, because she believes that a very wide audience will see the movie and become exposed to the intentionally healthier, environmentally-oriented concepts that it presents – the same ideas that she hopes to impart with her artwork. We’re so excited to have her join the project and can’t wait to see her concepts realized on the screen!

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