Alibi V.24 No.7 • Feb 12-18, 2015 

Art Review

Retinal Burn

Scorch your eyeballs on these radiant exhibits

You may need sunglasses for Saul Hoffman’s “Cerebral Highway.”
You may need sunglasses for Saul Hoffman’s “Cerebral Highway.”
[click to enlarge]

Bright beginnings

Artist Saul Hoffman wants to make you feel good. “We’re fed so much negativity by the media. I want [my art] to open up the goodness in one’s mind,” Hoffman says, and the eye-popping color and fanciful designs of his polymer clay mosaic work are perfectly suited to his desire. His first solo show, Origins, is on display for your delight in Old Town.

A medium long dominated by jewelry and figurines, polymer is making the leap to fine art thanks to Hoffman. To some extent the fancier cousin of Play-Doh, polymer is actually PVC plastic with enough phthalates to soften it. But unlike the kiddie dough, polymer clay takes considerably greater effort to manipulate. Hoffman blends all his colors manually, a process that requires hours of kneading and rolling clay to end up with only a couple of colors. Hoffman layers or swirls the colors and stacks them to make what polymer devotees call canes: sort of long, lean bricks. He slices the canes thinly, one inch yielding as many as 20 tiles. Finally, he assembles the tiles on a glass plate in the desired pattern and pops the entire piece into the oven to harden.

Hoffman blends all his colors manually, a process that requires hours of kneading and rolling clay to end up with only a couple of colors. Hoffman layers or swirls the colors and stacks them to make what polymer devotees call canes: sort of long, lean bricks.

Hoffman was hooked the first time polymer met his hands in the late ’80s. Self-taught by trial and error (and the occasional YouTube video), Hoffman made beads and jewelry for fun. A 2003 move to Jemez Springs, N.M., changed his direction. Influenced by the colors and patterns in and around the nearby pueblo, Hoffman started making mosaics.

These early patchwork pieces caught the eye of local artist and gallery owner Ralph Greene. Greene encouraged Hoffman to pursue the mosaics and introduced him to Young-Sook Park, whose gallery, Park Fine Art (323 Romero NW, parkfineart.com), hosts Origins. Hoffman spent the last three to four months working nonstop on new masterpieces.

The whimsical mosaics feature stripes, waves, swirls, curves and checkerboards, sometimes all in the same piece. Some are symmetrical; some are decidedly cockeyed. Some, like “Peas and Carrots,” hint at distinct objects: Green-topped triangles of purple and orange surround pods of yellow-green orbs. Others are entirely abstract, multitudes of colors and shapes that demand to be accepted without definition. At Greene’s suggestion, Hoffman has started to include three-dimensional aspects to his pieces. In two dimensions, Hoffman admits, “they almost look like prints,” but a closer inspection reveals each piece as wholly original.

Hoffman’s work is infused with positive energy and love. “My work is like comfort food, but comfort visions.” Get yourself a heaping portion of Hoffman’s delicious art now through March 6. (Elisa McGovern)

“I whip my hair back and forth!”
“I whip my hair back and forth!”
Courtesy National Geographic
[click to enlarge]

Get your feathers ruffled

Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution, the new all-ages exhibit upstairs at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science (1801 Mountain NW), is a traveling show in several senses. NatGeo photographer Tim Laman and Cornell University scientist Edwin Scholes sank eight years into 15 expeditions to the forests of Papua New Guinea to spy on courting birds. Visitors get a solid taste of those travels via field gear, field notes, videos, photographs and insights from Laman and Scholes about their experiences. A quick time hop allows a peek into the Victorian era for a whiff of natural history as it was done in the 19th century. Finally, the show resolves into a well-articulated and elegantly presented analysis of how birds of paradise got to be (if you’ll pardon the scientific jargon) such freaks of nature.

Birds of Paradise lies in that sweet spot between art and science, a place where you can’t stop looking and consequently can’t stop learning. Massive, gorgeous still photographs of these magnificently weird birds and their exotic environment captivate the attention, at least until you get into the moving pictures. Dozens of video stations give viewers facts about how and why birds of paradise are such extreme case studies in sexual selection. Funky feathers are just a tiny part of the program: These things sing and dance, and when they’re not putting on a show for the ladies, they practice for one another. Birds of Paradise integrates savvy A/V with expert curation, giving visitors of all ages and knowledge levels a fresh slice of natural history.

Birds of Paradise lies in that sweet spot between art and science, a place where you can’t stop looking and consequently can’t stop learning. Massive, gorgeous still photographs of these magnificently weird birds and their exotic environment captivate the attention, at least until you get into the moving pictures.

In a subtle echo of natural selection, visitors push buttons and turn knobs to select the bits of info they’re most intrigued by, but this is just the tip of the interactivity iceberg. Try out the forest blinds used by expedition teams to spy on the birds! See what Victorian Royal Society types keep in their drawers! See how the mating presentation looks to bird researchers, compared to how it looks to the target audience! Guide the long-term selection process with your own hands! Far and away the most interactive, and hugely hilarious, feature in this show is the Kinect-style “Dance, Dance Evolution” game, where two players reenact the King Bird of Paradise’s best moves in a competition to win approval from up to five watchers playing the role of the female birds.

Birds of Paradise runs through Aug. 16 and is included in the general admission fee. Ages 3-12, $4; 13-59, $7; 60+, $6. For more information call 841-2800 or visit nmnaturalhistory.org. (Holly von Winckel)