Opening at Spalding House on Feb. 4 is Less=More, an exhibition of works by internationally recognized and local artists that illustrate how the simple can be transformed into the complex. Included in the show are pieces by origami artist Michael LaFosse, who transforms single sheets of paper into elaborate flowers, animals, and other creations that go far beyond the classic geometric crane we’re all familiar with. His work is marked by graceful lines that form what might more accurately be called paper sculptures.

“When [curator of education] Aaron Padilla approached us to be involved in this exhibition, I had to ask myself, ‘What exemplifies Less=More?’” said LaFosse. “I had to think about the restriction of technique and material. If I was a paper artist, I could do anything, but that is perhaps too broad. If I could do anything, I’d flounder. Origami is only folding, with no cuts. That narrowing of restrictions helps to form a direction for my work.”

LaFosse compares his origami dilemma to language. “If you have unlimited characters and sounds, you’d probably speak gibberish,” he explains, “but with a finite set of characters and sounds, you can develop a rich language. That is how I approach origami: less is more.”

Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander during the installation of their origami

Michael LaFosse (right) and Richard Alexander during the installation of their origami at Spalding House

Based in Haverhill, Massachusetts, LaFosse and his partner Richard Alexander, who makes custom paper for the duo and for origami masters around the world (and who designed the purple ohana orchid composition at the top), are no strangers to Hawai‘i. In fact, from 2008 to 20011 they had a gallery and studio in the International Market Place (RIP). Now, as Origamidō Studio (the way of folded paper) they do everything from school programs and private lessons to fine and commercial art. When they returned to O‘ahu for ten days this month to prepare for their Spalding House installation, they took an opportunity to reconnect with the island’s origami community that they had met when they held workshops at International Market Place.

While here, LaFosse and Alexander held two days of workshops, with one dedicated to folding, the other to papermaking (to do wet-fold origami, you need special paper that meet your design’s needs). People of all ages attended the sold-out folding workshops on Jan.17. “It amazed me that there were so many individuals who were so passionate about origami,” said Allison Roscoe, Spalding House docent and paper maker who generously donated a paper beater to the museum in time for the Jan. 18 papermaking workshop, “From groups of teens to adults, to grandparents with their grandchildren, there was just something magical about it all.” Pictured below is a step-by-step stop motion video of origami dogs by Alexander.

Most of the designs you’ll see in Less = More LaFosse and Alexander have folded hundreds of times before, but a few will be a bit different. When he approached Alexander and LaFosse about the exhibition, Padilla proposed an idea to display an unfolded piece of paper with the crease pattern of the displayed work. “It was the first time any curator has thought to offer the crease pattern alongside the display” says LaFosse, “this was exciting, and fortunately I do all the diagrams for all the books, so I knew I could easily offer this.”

Museum school tours of the exhibition will emphasize the math principals that the artworks illustrate. How does math figure into the origami equation?

“Most origami enthusiasts will accidentally have success, but when somebody wants to do this as a profession, they need to understand the engineering aspect,” explains LaFosse, who studied biology. “There is a creative element, but it is supported by an understanding of geometry. We use geometry and various math calculations to design the crease pattern.”

LaFosse expanded on the mathematical aspect of his work. “When we’re hired to do a job with a deadline, we can’t just approach it using trial and error, we need to have a geometrical understanding of what’s possible to understand how the fracturing of polygons onto a square paper fits and collapses into an origami shape.”

See Michael LaFosse’s mind-blowing origami in Less=More, opening Feb. 4.