Ani Hoover is no longer going around in circles.

For a time, the Buffalo artist’s brightly colored orbs, which sent dramatic streams of acrylic paint dribbling down vertical sheets of thick paper or long rectangles of wood, were bubbling up all over town. A bold example of that career-defining style, minus the drips, is still visible on the facade of Starlight Studio and Gallery, directly across the street from Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.

Take a look at Hoover’s circles before you enter her new show of sculpture in Hallwalls, and see if you can recognize the same artist. It might be difficult.

Hoover’s new pieces seem to have little in common with the deceptively playful pieces that put her on the radar of so many Western New York art fans and collectors. The exhibition features three new sculptures: a heart-shaped bed of gorgeous rubber flowers made from recycled bicycle tires, a towering and inflated bear made of translucent plastic and a comically huge ball of yarn Hoover has been working on for the better part of a decade.

Each piece is the result of a personal and professional transformation, Hoover said. After the recent death of her father, Hoover looked for ways to branch out from her cycle of circles. She migrated toward the rubber flowers, which evoke ideas of death, beauty and reuse, almost unconsciously. They make up the most visually addictive of the new sculptures, each one the result of meticulous trial-and-error sessions with scissors, each one a small sign of the beauty that blossoms in unexpected places. They are loaded, but not overloaded, symbols of rebirth.

Similarly, the bear is a symbol freighted with ideas of childhood comfort or protection, and Hoover seems to be pushing viewers to think about what that amplified symbol means to them and why.

The ball of yarn, with its kaleidoscopic colors and its enticing tactile nature, makes you envision a gargantuan cat hiding around the corner, ready to pounce. But it, too, is about remembering. Hoover said she began making the ball some 10 years ago with yarn, partially as a paean to her grandmother. Like the rest of her new work, the ball of yarn is a worthy attempt to transform the memory of the departed into a tangible and beautiful object.

Immersive experience

On the other side of the small gallery, Buffalo artist Alexandra Spaulding has produced a compelling series of works that invite viewers to lose themselves in the strange textures of light and sound.

Spaulding, inspired by the light-based work of James Turrell and Robert Irwin, is interested in creating art and environments that are difficult if not impossible to describe to those who have not experienced them.

Her attempt to create a space in which gallery visitors can fully immerse themselves is limited by the fact that she has only half of the space to work with. The show’s main attraction is a small room she’s constructed, into which visitors can crawl and be subjected to light and sound that subtly changes depending on the time of day.

Like Turrell’s “Gap,” which was on in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 2007, Spaulding’s room works better the longer you stay in it. At a certain point, your consciousness will become unmoored and the light and sound will have strange effects on you that no one can anticipate and few can describe.

Spaulding also has several smaller light-based works in the show. Her series of bright neon tubes behind frosted glass and surrounded by a thick black border are alluring, like beer signs viewed through thick fog. Three light boxes covered with slashed fabric, evocative of Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvases, are captivating – though they would have benefitted from being flush with the wall so as to hide their depth and deepen their effect.

Unless you’re an exceptionally quick study, Spaulding’s work – especially her installation but also her individual light-based works – require a significant investment of time. After only a brief glance at the work, I’m already planning my return trip.