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Artists with Wyo roots make their mark on Denver’s Meow Wolf

Sergio Burrola, Stevon Lucero, Adrian H. Molina and Forrest Burke in Meow Wolf Denver. Lucero and Molina are from Wyoming. (Jilann Spitzmiller)

Lucero, Molina part of the team that created the ‘Indigenous Futurist Dreamscapes Lounge’ in Meow Wolf’s new Denver location.

 Michael ShayWyoFile

The Wyoming origin story for the “Indigenous Futurist Dreamscapes Lounge” installation at the new Meow Wolf Denver is as fantastic as the work itself.

Stevon Lucero grows up in Laramie in the 1960s and ‘70s. He’s a longhair, sees himself as a hippie. By night, he and his friends party up at the Ames Monument. To get out of the constant wind, they sneak into the pyramid and hang out in its interior passageway. 

In 1975, fueled by his trips to the pyramid, Lucero dreams a lucid dream dazzling in its detail. 

Four figures sit facing the monument walls of the pyramid. A green orb appears, and it has tentacles that plug into the figures’ navels. They turn green, the monument turns green. Now they’re outside the monument. It begins to glow green as does all the land. Everyone touched by the light begins to meditate. America turns green and so does the planet. Lucero the dreamer is on the moon watching this. The Earth bursts open like an egg revealing a glowing androgenous being who stretches out his arms, becomes an infinity shape and jets off into space like a comet.

“The dream stayed with me,” Lucero said. “I’ve always wanted to paint this. But where?”

The Indigenous Futurist Dreamscapes Lounge installation at the new Meow Wolf Denver. (Kennedy Cottrell)

Enter Rawlins native Adrian Molina (a.k.a. Molina Speaks). A Denver-based spoken-word artist and musician, Molina met Lucero and saw his artwork at the 2019 “Untitled” show at the Denver Art Museum. 

Molina knew whom to contact when he got the opportunity to design one of the Denver exhibit’s spaces. He was familiar with Meow Wolf Santa Fe, billed as an “explorable arts experience for people of all ages, featuring over 70 rooms of immersive art.”

“All I could see in my mind was Stevon’s art,” he said. “I wanted to pair this elder artist’s visual art with new-school music and videography.” 

Molina brought Lucero to the proposed space in the four-story Denver structure still under construction. He told Lucero that his vision was to create a dream.

“Then I saw it,” Lucero said. “I left and, in an hour, I had the whole thing sketched out.”

The two artists spent “weeks and weeks, from sunrise to sundown,” Molina said, on their “Indigenous Futurist Dreamscapes Lounge,” one of 79 installations created by more than 300 artists, a third of them from Colorado. Lucero painted the dreamscapes, and Molina recorded the soundscapes and videos. It was ready to be experienced by the crowds of curious onlookers who flocked to the much-anticipated Sept. 17 opening of the downtown Denver site. 

“Comments have been positive,” Lucero, 71, said. “I’m a symbolist and this piece has a lot of content. Visitors come in, sit down, and say ‘Wow.’ 

“I think that somehow my space shows the whole idea of the Convergence Station.”That’s the theme for Meow Wolf Denver’s permanent installation: “the convergence of four different dimensions.” 

The Indigenous Futurist Dreamscapes Lounge installation at the new Meow Wolf Denver. (Kennedy Cottrell)

Meow Wolf began in 2008 in Santa Fe, N.M., as an artists’ collective. In 2016, it opened a 20,000-square-foot immersive installation featuring surreal roomscapes and secret passageways, which quickly exploded in popularity. This is its third permanent outpost after the Santa Fe location and another in Las Vegas. 

The “convergence” of these two artists speaks volumes about the growth of the Latino arts community.

Since moving his young family to Denver in 1976, Lucero’s work has shown in single-artist exhibits throughout the U.S. He’s delivered craft lectures at Harvard and Columbia universities. In 1996, the Museo de las Americas featured 54 of Lucero’s paintings. In 1992, he painted the “Tlateco Market” diorama for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s exhibit, “Aztec: The World of Montezuma.” In 2010, he returned to his hometown of Laramie to paint the mural for KOCA La Radio Montanesa at the Lincoln Community Center.  

He helped found the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council, which has transformed Santa Fe Drive, a neglected thoroughfare on the western fringe of Denver’s downtown, into an official Colorado Creative District. He will be busy this fall as part of “Denver Visual Artists & Their Legacy” an exhibit that opened Oct. 3 at the CHAC Gallery. 

It wasn’t always this way. When he first shopped around his work, trying to make a living to support his family, “A Chicano couldn’t get shows,” he said. “Hey, you’re supposed to be a gardener or a janitor and not an artist.” 

Lucero’s colorful styles, which he calls metaphysical fantastic realism (metarealism) and neo-Columbian or Aztec art, blends symbols of his Mexican heritage and his trippy visions. He plays with the image of Quetzalcoatl, the Mayan calendar and ancient symbology. He was friends with Tony Schearer, a New Age author of Lakota descent who was the architect of the Harmonic Convergence held in Telluride in August 1987. Lucero may have been a hippie in 1970s Laramie, but now resembles the Chicano elder that he is. He hasn’t lived in Laramie for 45 years, yet there are some influences he carries with him. He still wears the same outfit, whether he’s lecturing at Harvard or painting a mural: blue work shirt and blue jeans. He once was stopped entering a swanky black-tie affair in his usual attire. “I’m the artist,” he remembers saying. They let him in.

“Some say, ‘Hey, you dress like a cowboy.’ No — those are the guys who tormented me in high school. Growing up Chicano in Laramie was awful.” 

Molina Speaks’ videos are available on YouTube. In one video, he sits on a pile of weeds and broken concrete. Behind him, Denver Light Rail trains rumble by. In the far background lies the Rocky Mountains. Molina is dressed in black, stocking cap pulled down on his forehead. Transform that light rail train into a Union Pacific freight, and you can imagine him as a restless young creative sitting by the tracks in Rawlins. 

Molina speaks: “Mi hijo speaks no espanglish. Because progress has stolen a piece of history from all of us. Mi hijo, my people, if someone does not break this cycle, there soon will be no trace of us left.”

In another episode of “Bronze Future,” his eight-part autobiographical spoken-word series, he addresses his origins. He relates how his family came to America from Chihuahua, Mexico, his abuelo a bracero who heard Cesar Chavez speaks in the fields,  his abuela a curandera a healer, how his family moved north “to make it in the land of slavery,” and finally arrived in “Rawlins, Wyoming, always struggling with the racist history of the frontier.”

Molina was the only Latino student in his junior high, he said. 

“I grew up on the southside of Rawlins, and I’m proud of my roots,” he said. “I love the big blue open skies of Wyoming. I used to cloud watch a lot when I was a student at UW, in Laramie parks and out hiking at Vedauwoo. Denver was my destiny, but I wouldn’t be me without those Wyoming roots. This mix of urban and rural experiences has given me a wide canvas for exploring the human condition.” 

Molina bills himself as “an artist, performer, master of ceremonies, and human bridge” on his web site. He returns often to Cheyenne, where he is a mentor for the Wyoming Arts Council’s Poetry Out Loud project, and to Laramie, to teach at UW. 

He’s always the educator, too. He was creative director of Youth on Record during the establishment of its Youth Media Studio, which serves over 1,000 students each year. He was an honoree of the Lalo Delgado Poetry Festival, named for the Denver poet who mentored generations of inner-city youth. Molina was named a Westword Magazine Mastermind in 2017 for his creative contributions to the City of Denver.

Visitors can reserve tickets to Meow Wolf Denver at https://meowwolf.com/visit/denver.

Inside, the “Indigenous Futures Dreamscapes Lounge” illustrates how the Wyoming experience can be channeled in new ways by two of its expatriate artists.