Much like Superman, Josh Hadar bends steel with his hands.
The 42-year-old sculptor, whose first exhibit, "The Evolution of Steel," showcases his eco-friendly custom bikes and metal trees, regularly walks around SoHo in search of fire hydrants, telephone poles and trash cans around which he can wrap the steel pipes he uses in his sculptures.
"I don't use any modern bending equipment," says Hadar, an ex-developer who converted the old Studio 54 space into the Roundabout Theatre. "It is all about leverage. I'm 6-foot-5, so I get a lot of leverage."
In fact, Hadar leveraged his early career in management into a full-time gig as a steel artist best known for environmentally conscious, hand-designed bikes. He works out of a grungy two-car garage in SoHo that receives 60% of its electricity from six solar panels on the roof.
"This is solar-powered art that is beautiful," says Hadar, who lives with his family in Tribeca. "Nobody ever crosses the street to look at a Prius. Why can't eco-friendly be decadent and sexy and luxurious? The goal of these bikes is to add sexiness and luxuriousness to where there was none before."
Indeed, the 16 bikes on display at the gallery on 285 Lafayette St. are beautiful to view. There's the Solar E-Trike, a sleek black tricycle with four 12-volt solar-power batteries that can hit 55 mph with the right gear ratio. The Eco-Luxe, an elegant manually powered bicycle, has a bronze finish and a fender made from stingray skin.
"All these bikes are completely handmade," says Hadar. "They take anywhere from four weeks to four months to make, and while my show is called 'The Evolution of Steel,' it really is about my evolution as a welder."
Hadar's journey from an exec to a metal master is just as surprising as his custom bike designs. After a career as a production facilities manager for a network soap opera and a stint redeveloping Studio 54, he traded his suit and tie for jeans and a T-shirt.
"I went to the downtown Educational Alliance on the lower East Side, took a few welding classes and I was hooked," he says. "There was just something about the permanence of the metal. So I spent eight to 12 hours a day welding. Most people probably thought I was having a midlife crisis, but I didn't care."
He started making bikes after finding dozens of frames in a Sullivan St. Dumpster.
"I was just looking for metal, and I found this Dumpster with a ton of nasty restaurant waste and 20 to 30 old rusted bicycles, so I jumped in and took them," he says. "Originally I thought I would use the metal to make a funky piece of furniture, but then I decided to try making crazy bikes."
Hadar's initial two-Josh Hadar, in his studio on Broome St., forges the shape of things to come. wheeled renderings, which incorporated pipes from the wall of his workshop, were rudimentary to say the least, but when he rode them around the neighborhood, the reaction was overwhelming.
"I would roll up to red lights and be surrounded by people with cameras," he says. "I've been pulled over twice by cops, and both times it was so they could take pictures."
In the six years that Hadar has been building bikes, his style has developed to incorporate modern graceful lines, blown-glass gas tanks and a more eco-friendly work ethic, which he attributes to becoming a father.
But all art comes at a price, especially if it involves welding large pieces of steel together.
Hadar almost took off his right thumb with a grinder and once had a piece of metal removed from his eyeball.
"Doctors had to stick a needle in my eye, which hurt a lot, but it's the love of welding that keeps me going," he says. "I like working with my hands and creating something that is both environmentally friendly and beautiful to look at."
While Hadar's art has developed, so has the area around his welding studio.
"SoHo used to be this gritty artist community, and now it's the home of high-end boutiques," he says. “I’m the last vestige of old SoHo, and I kind of like that."
"The Evolution of Steel" exhibit by Josh Hadar will be on display at 285 Lafayette St. until May 27. For hours
and more information, visit HadarMetalDesign.com.