Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Steve Palmer

Steve Palmer in his studio
Photo credit: —Oli Robbins

c. Steve Palmer


c. Steve Palmer


c. Steve Palmer

liquid color

Signpost featured artist

Vision, perception, aesthetics: The art and science of Steve Palmer

—Oli Robbins

Placitas resident Steve Palmer spent his decades-long academic career at Berkeley unveiling new findings in visual perception. Towards the end of his professorial tenure, he began investigating aesthetics—conducting research-based experiments on color and space. That he would eventually become an art-maker in addition to an aesthetic theorizer seems quite natural.

His mastery of the visual world is substantiated by years of scholarly groundwork, partially summarized in his 1999 seminal tome Vision Science: Photons to Phenomenology, which he wrote for more than a decade in response to the then-budding development of vision science. Vision Science offers an interdisciplinary approach to vision—gleaning information from various disciplines including psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and anthropology. But when it comes to Steve’s artistic outputs, he trusts that he’s “guided more by an aesthetic instinct than by scientific stuff.”

He believes that artists possess an advanced understanding of vision and perception. Says Steve, “Artists are light years ahead of the kind of thing that I’m studying scientifically. All they have to do is make the art. And the scientists may come by and a couple hundred years later decide they want to understand it in a more formalistic way.”

Steve spent his first 18 years in Westfield, New Jersey. In school, he enjoyed and did well in art classes, but never considered pursuing a career in art, since he was encouraged by his parents and teachers to travel the academic highway. He completed his undergrad at Princeton, where he majored in pre-med until witnessing cutthroat, selfish behavior from his peers. He then settled on psychology and chose to specialize in memory.

As a graduate student at University of California, San Diego, he found the field of perception to be even more captivating. “When I look back on it, it’s called an attractor in chaos theory. It just drew me in. Once I got into this thing about vision, it was like “oh yeah!”—it just really grabbed me. And it turned out I was good at it.” After graduate school, Steve landed a job at Berkeley, which spanned the course of his career.

Unbelievably, Steve’s current artwork—textured glass paintings created with a bevy of acrylic materials —is the result of a mere six months of experimentation. While Steve the painter is still in his infancy, Steve the photographer has a few more years experience under his belt. In 2002, Steve acquired a new camera, which was, for its time, state-of-the-art. Says Steve, “you could set your depth of field so that you could blur background and make the foreground in focus.” This camera launched a reciprocal relationship between his photography and scientific theories. His photographs opened his eyes up to different subjects (like “sharp versus blurry focus and how the visual system separates things in terms of one object and the other”), and sometimes his theoretical projects (on color preference and spacial composition, for example) would inform his photographs.

Says Steve, “I developed a course called coloring consciousness, and it was the best course I ever taught.” In it, he and his students considered color from many different perspectives. They tackled philosophical color issues—“Is the red you see the same experience as the color I see as red?”—as well as phenomenology and the experience of color, how scientists measure color and how the brain treats color. This eventually led to the study of emotion and aesthetics, a discourse that lacked significant scientific evidence when Steve entered it.

Until recently, Steve had been sharing his time between Berkeley and Placitas, where he now lives with husband Avi Kriechman. Steve’s relocation to Placitas generated his present artistic identity. Not only did he finally have the time to create, he was also surrounded by a community rich with talented artists.

“I became inspired and more prolific once I moved out here,” says Steve. At first, he played with the relationship between color and ground, then began working with acrylic on wood panels, eventually discovering that plexiglass is a superior support for his technique and style. The acrylic glass works harmoniously with his acrylic materials, transforming and amplifying light and color (much like stained glass).

In his paintings, which he refers to as “Liquid Color,” he aims to achieve interesting textures, as well as vibrant colors, and often employs acrylic gels to do so. His standard process involves mixing a pouring medium, which is honey-like in consistency, with acrylic inks, using separate cups for each desired color. The colored mixture is then distributed around the center of the plexiglass, which is then tilted in every direction so the compound spreads and provides full coverage, blending and swirling as it disperses. The colors can also be shaped with some kind of stylus before or after the tilting process. Just this month, he tried modifying the technique slightly, applying the pouring medium over the entire surface, adding drops of color after and only fusing the colors with a palette knife or his fingers.

Steve’s later academic career in aesthetics included research on synesthesia. But Steve explains that “even an everyday experience for regular (non-synesthete) people is that all the senses are connected. Your brain—when you see an object and feel an object, there’s information coming in. How do you know what’s going on? Your retina and your eye are related to what’s going on at your fingers. We’re wired to be these multimodal kinds of creatures who understand the world in terms of multi-sensory interactions. One of the things that I’m doing now is trying to explore multi-media cross-modal interactions.”

Says Steve of his current work, “You don’t have that much control over a lot of this stuff. I’m just starting to figure out how to get space happening, and shape.” His recent creations include multi-part pieces using a band saw, which allow the viewer/owner to play with their own visual field by arranging and rearranging the shapes.

Contact the artist by emailing him at You can view a selection of his work at Hoot Art Gallery in Placitas. To learn more about Steve’s scientific color studies as well as his research on the relationship between color, music and emotion, watch his distinguished faculty lecture from around minute 53:00:

Call for Artists to Exhibit — Placitas Artists Series 2017–18 Season

The Placitas Artists Series (PAS) invites all New Mexico artists and craft-persons 18 years of age and older to submit three electronic images of their work and a completed application found online at (click on the “Visual Arts Application” link at top of page) by MARCH 31, 2017 in order to be selected by jury for a monthly exhibit during the PAS 31st season, September 2017 through May 2018. The online application contains all instructions and the fee is $15.

The PAS presents inspiring art and music in a welcoming venue located in the Placitas foothills. An opening artists’ reception is held on the day of each monthly concert; and artists selected by jury receive publicity and a year’s exposure on the PAS website,
For additional information, contact Vicki Gottlieb, PAS Visual Arts Chair at 505-404-8022 or .

Bobcat kittens, photograph, by Erica Wendle-Oglesby

“Critters” at Placitas Community Library

—Bonnie J. Hayes

Animals, in many mediums, will be migrating to the Placitas Community Library for the month of January. Come to the free, public reception of “Critters,” on January 13, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Admire the artists' ability to capture the essence of their subjects.

The show runs from December 31 through February 2. Artists sharing their work are: Carol Ordogne, Judith Roderick, Steve McKibbon, Erica Wendle-Oglesby, Michael Stoy, David W. Cramer, and Amy Hautman.

Pianist Awadagin Pratt

Placitas Artists Series welcomes pianist Awadagin Pratt

Acclaimed pianist Awadagin Pratt has performed at the White House three times and in many top concert halls around the world. More locally, he draws enthusiastic crowds when he plays with the New Mexico Philharmonic. In January, he will be in Placitas joining Willy Sucre and Friends as they kick off the Placitas Artists Series’ thirtieth anniversary concerts.

The concert will be held on January 15, starting at 3:00 p.m. The program is “Piano Quintets,” featuring Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, by Ludwig van Beethoven, arranged for piano and string quartet; and Piano Quintet in F minor, OP. 34, by Johannes Brahms.

In addition to Pratt on piano and Sucre on viola, the ensemble includes violinists Krzysztof Zimowdki and Justin Pollak, and cellist James Holland.

The concert is generously sponsored by Mary and Dave Colton, and Joan Jander.

Prior to the concert, at 2:00 p.m., a visual artists reception will feature works by Elzbieta Kaleta, mixed media paper cut-outs and collage; Meredith McPherson, sumi ink on paper; and Katherine Christie Wilson, oil. Their artwork will be on display throughout the month of January.

The concert and visual artist reception will take place at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church in the village of Placitas, located six miles east of I-25 on NM 165 (Exit 242). The facility is completely accessible. Individual concert tickets are $25, $15 for students with ID. Music students through high school are admitted free with paying adults.

For further ticket information, see page 2 of this Signpost, or visit, or call 867-8080.

Placitas Artists Series projects are made possible in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

New El Palacio Magazine features historic site research

—Matthew J. Barbour, Regional Manager, Coronado and Jemez Historic Sites

El Palacio is an extremely long-lived magazine. Established by Edgar L. Hewett in 1913, it has been at the forefront of art, history, and culture in the American Southwest for over one hundred years. The magazine reflects the work of New Mexico’s four state museums in Santa Fe; its six New Mexico Historic Sites; and its singular Office of Archaeological Studies.

Currently, El Palacio is published quarterly and offers articles on archaeological work conducted throughout the state, interviews with world renowned artisans, the latest information on new exhibits and special events held by the Museums of New Mexico throughout the state, and much more. The magazine is great for all Southwest enthusiasts, and it is free. Visit any New Mexico Historic Site or Museum, see the current exhibits, and grab the most recent issue of El Palacio to keep informed about what is happening throughout the state.

The winter 2016 issue is just in. Its cover feature is an article on recent research into the cultural materials recovered at Coronado Historic Site. Written by Ranger Ethan Ortega, it offers new light on Kuaua Pueblo and early Spanish contact in the region. Old artifacts can tell new tales and these new interpretations might surprise you.

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