Interview with Artist Charles Gadeken


Shared By Felicia Constantine

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A champion of installation art, and an inspiration to many, artist Charles Gadeken took some time to answer a few questions from Britelite. Featured in one of our recent Inspiration Sensation blog series, here is a little more about Charles Gadeken…

A local Bay Area luminary of industrial art, Charles Gadeken has been working in the Bay Area art scene for 25+ years. His industrial art includes elements of LED, movement, flame, hydraulics, and electricity to increase the visual and physical impact of his works.

“Focused on engaging the imagination both in the objects he creates and the method of their creation, Charles is dedicated to increasing artistic community and public awareness of art. Many of his pieces are interactive, encouraging spectators to become participants in the artistic experience. He not only makes art, but also uses his artistic practice to encourage others to do so. Charles has inspired hundreds of people to participate in art-making and personally trained volunteers in the process of creating and installing art for private collections and public art for various commissions.”

About Charles Gadeken

The interview You have been waiting for

How would you describe your work?

To be honest, I don't love talking about my work. I like making it and putting it out there for people to experience and enjoy. I try to make whimsical things of beauty, that inspire happiness and tap into people's imagination and playful sides. I tend to use natural forms like trees and flowers, then put my own "post-nature" spin on them. It is also very important to me that people engage with my art, so I incorporate interactive elements in most of my work, and I often collaborate in the art-making process with others.

CROWN at Burning Man 2018. Video by Kimberly Sikora

What made you get into this field of work?

Some things that really appeal to me about being an artist are being able to exercise my creativity and being my own boss. Art-making gave purpose and meaning to my life as a young man, and an artist is really the only thing I can be! I particularly lean towards metalwork and industrial art because I am good with my hands and because I had such great inspiration in San Francisco art scene. Large metal sculptures also lend themselves very well to collaborative art-making, which is another passion of mine. I got into Interactive art because it is really engaging and gives control of the art to the viewer, who becomes a participant rather than a spectator.

I have gotten into making permanent public art to have something that lasts, that many people see, and to have a legacy.

TABULA , Video by Allen J. Mort

Can you tell us about your current project, the permanent interactive kinetic art installation on the Stanford campus.

I am a co-instructor for EE185, a class in the Electrical Engineering department at Stanford. Over 3 quarters, we will design, prototype, and manufacture an interactive kinetic art installation to celebrate the department’s 125th anniversary. My main goal is to introduce a whole new group of students to collaborative art, to encourage and empower them to explore ideas and make art that speaks to them. They will be implementing their engineering and programming skills for embedded electrical elements and creating a system architecture for the installation. We will be exploring light properties with dichroic glass and kinetic art with tiny motors.

How do you think about your works in relation to their location? Do you build them to fit a specific place, or do you consider them standalone artworks?

For commissioned public art, I must always think about the location of the art, the history of the space and the audience it will speak to. My architectural lightwork, TABULA, in Palo Alto was created to become part of the structure of the building. I have many ideas for future artworks that I think are beautiful and compelling. Thus, when I apply for a public art funding opportunity, I have several proposals to choose from to fit the space and the goal of the funding agency, or I come up with something new if nothing fits.

But most of my past artworks are solitary sculptures that are standalone. My Burning Man artworks are definitely inspired by the large expanse of the landscape and the participatory nature of the art there. However, some of these pieces (Aurora and Squared) have subsequently been installed publicly to great success.

“ENU” at Beyond Wonderland 2017. Photo by Kimberly Sikora

How important is it to keep up with technical developments relating to your field? Eg evolution of LEDs, materials?

I am lucky to have a good relationship with Mark Lottor,who is consistently designing new LEDs for complex control systems. I depend on many people to implement my artistic visions on the programming side, so I think it is important to collaborate with them by implementing technologies that they like to work with. We have developed our own custom software for our control systems for all of my LED artworks. I love to read about new ways to make things, new tech, new ideas, new materials. I am always searching for the next amazing thing.

ROSHANAI at Burning Man 2016. Photo by Hank Leiter

ROSHANAI at Burning Man 2016. Photo by Meike Gugel

What upcoming technology are you most excited about? What would you most like to work with in the next year?

​EL film, color changing paint, wax rams, dichroic and trichroic films and glass, RGB lasers, some super black nanotube paint, satellites, magic.

How do you feel the Bay Area is supporting its artists? Any advice for other artists working in the Bay Area?

It is incredibly hard to be a professional artist in the Bay Area, since it is so expensive to live here. It’s hard to be even a hobbyist, because most people work their “day jobs” so much of the time here! I know that SFAC has a lot of support available for artists of various sorts, and they sponsored my temporary public installation of Squared in SF, which made my longtime dream of having my art in my city come true. For almost 20 years, I have been dedicated to supporting artists through the Box Shop, where I provide studios, workspace, and access to quality tools for hundreds of artists. I also engage and train dozens of volunteers with each of my Burning Man projects, fostering their artistic tendencies. My advice would be to seek out collaborative art groups and people who are inspiring to you, and make sure to patronize places like the Box Shop that are trying to keep art alive in SF. Be on the lookout for funding opportunities and apply for everything within reach!

Is collaboration important in your work? What are some of your most important collaborations? Who would you like to collaborate with?

Collaboration is very important in my work! I have a lot of ideas, but I don't have all the expertise to execute on them. I have collected quite a group of collaborators, who help me with numerous things including engineering, computer-assisted design (CAD), lighting design, software programming.

Thank you Charles Gadeken for your time, and we look forward to writing more about your art! At Britelite we have taken a great interest in our ever evolving community of artists, let us know what artists you’d like to see us feature/interview! To see some more of Charles Gadekens’s work, visit his website:

Britelite Immersive is a creative technology agency that designs experience centers and immersive environments. Read more about our capabilities or view our work.

Britelite Immersive is a creative technology agency that designs experience centers and immersive environments. Read more about our capabilities or view our work.

©2020 Britelite Immersive

Britelite Immersive is a creative technology agency that designs experience centers and immersive environments.


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