I have found that when all the cameras and microphones are on a big story, some of the most interesting stories can be found in the peripheral spaces around that larger story. This was the case as I made my way through the guided press tour of Meow Wolf's Convergence Station in Denver.
There was spectacle and awe as elevator doors opened to the Bladerunner-esque C-street. There was wonder as we entered the cavernous three-story Numina room, which spanned three stories in the technicolor representation of a living planet. All of Meow Wolf is a sight to behold. But the room that caught my breath didn't include ancient alien architectural wonders or lost memories of refugee extraterrestrial cultures.
It was a small hallway lined with a series of disfigured portraits that looked as if British portrait artist Francis Bacon had come back from the grave to paint them himself. I profoundly connected with these portraits. The artwork seemed to capture the suffering of the human condition that we have all shared as a global population, seemed to drip from the portraits.
Even before I ever attended my first art school, I was a huge fan of Francis Bacon's work. It struck me as ironic that these images rendered perfectly in the style of Bacon would come back into my life as I walked through a four-story, completely immersive Maximalist art science fiction experience.
I had to know who created this room and get the story behind the artwork.
Before we begin that journey, let's take a quick look at the artist to which the room pays homage;
Francis Bacon (28 Oct. 1909 – 28 Apr. 1992) was an Irish-born British contemporary figurative painter known for his unsettling and raw imagery. His subject matter abstracted figures who were often isolated in geometric structures.
Resisting the classification of his work, the artist strove to render "the brutality of fact."
He worked in series, often focusing on a single subject for long periods that were often rendered in diptych and triptychs focused on his existential and bleak outlook.
Since he died in 1992, Bacon's work has become some of the most sought after, acclaimed and expensive in the contemporary art world.
The Convergence Station room, entitled 'Bacon Faces', was created by Denver-based artist Andi Todaro. Todaro had worked the Meow Wolf artist collaborative since the early Santa Fe days (albeit just one mural,) making those connections with the folks at Meow Wolf through a DIY underground music festival that had ties to a similar group based in Santa Fe.
Todaro's work at Convergence Station is a marked departure from the impossible geometry she had previously been doing, including a mural at Meow Wolf, Santa Fe.
"Most of my artwork up until this point has been mathematical, physical, and somewhat scientific, but overlapping with otherworldly and spiritual aspects." Says Todaro, who adds, "I don't disagree the new work comes from the same place, just a really different process."
Francis Bacon was one of the artists that truly spoke to her, and she thought of as a true artist. Todaro was worried that she wouldn't be able to paint in a way that communicated like Bacon's work did.
"I can't imitate it. I can't come up with a program to replicate it. I can't figure out how the hell this guy could paint like this. It's so good." Todaro says of her earlier worries about taking on the project.
The planning stage for Convergence Station was in the pre-COVID world, and Todaro had doubts that she would be able to challenge herself to do this thing she had taken on. But her want to get out of her shell and try something new pushed her to try.
Then COVID hit, turning the world upside down, and it became almost too much to take on that amount of challenge.
"But in a lot of ways, I feel it was meant to be. Because it really made the work better. While I was painting, the state I was in was pretty similar to what the mural looks like."
With her previous geometric mural work at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, Todaro felt her work really didn't stand out, but rather just in the background of a lot of other wonderfully fantastic artwork.
In this new project, she decided to attempt to do something completely different from everything else and stand out and be memorable.
Organizers at Meow Wolf give the artists complete control of their particular pieces. Which allowed Todaro the freedom to explore the notion of "what is being alive and the nightmare we all share just to make money to survive." At the same time, Todaro doesn't necessarily believe in all of the systems she has to participate in.
"But we have to choose something to participate in just to live. A lot of the time, I was thinking of the characters I was painting and what they had to sacrifice just to keep living."
The powerful motif of this work also seems to deal with human suffering and isolation. When asked about these themes, Todaro told me that "I kind of feel like everyone is suffering alone. Even with so much connection with the internet. It's just not the same as it used to be in person."
I also asked Todaro what first brought her to creating art. She told me that "I have always considered myself polymathic (an individual whose knowledge spans a substantial number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems—yes, I had to look that one up.) As a child, my basement always had taken apart radios, chemistry sets, paints, strings, and wires that would always seem to connect and become sculptures. I am just obsessed with figuring out how things work and making new things and. Fortunately, people keep paying me to do that."
Besides creating immersive art experiences for the likes of Meow Wolf, Todaro also does graphic design for several local businesses, creates stained glass art, and has murals located throughout Denver.
She purposely does not have a website, representation, or much of a social media presence. She says, "I'm the weirdo that doesn't actually love a lot of attention. But, if more people want to hire me to do stuff, I'm all about it. But, I don't want to be famous.
The one place you can find more about her artwork is on her Instagram profile which is @plusdashplus.