Best Visionary Artist 2023 | Emily Kell | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The concept of the divine feminine is seen throughout the paintings of Emily Kell, a Boulder-based artist who has made a name for herself worldwide with her visionary works. Inspired by her tarot practice, mythology and archetypal figures from mysticism, Kell creates portraits of feminine figures, often with a background of swirling stars. She's also a poet, and created an alphabet she calls "moon scratch," which is instantly recognizable in her oeuvre. While most visionary art is centered on ecstatic psychedelic states, Kell's work is more about introspection and transitive moments. Her art was published in the 2018 book Women of Visionary Art, though her greatest accomplishment is likely the meaningful inspiration she passes on through her paintings.

Scott Hildebrandt didn't know that when he made a miniature village as a Christmas gift back in 2008, it was the beginning of a flourishing artistic career. With a background in electrical engineering, Hildebrandt makes miniature displays that can light up and sometimes move. His diorama worlds are usually set in vintage vessels such as boomboxes or Game Boys, evoking nostalgia and eliciting smiles — so it's no wonder that when Meow Wolf began enlisting Denver artists before it opened in 2021, Hildebrandt was asked to create an installation. After filling a hallway there with 200 dioramas, Hildebrandt now focuses on filling commissions, which have shot up — because unlike his art, Mister Christmas's reputation is far from small-scale.

Denver sculptor Ira Sherman has had a long, lucrative career with his iconic kinetic, wearable sculptures, which have been collected by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., and the National Ornamental Museum in Memphis, among others. In 2022, he produced his first exhibition in three years at Bitfactory Gallery with Ira Sherman: Revenge, Protection, Redemption, in which he displayed new, mind-blowing creations that each took six months to complete. These wearable prostheses respond mechanically to the wearer and provide commentary on humans' relationships with intimacy and emotions. From sci-fi chastity belts to a contraption that can lift couples in the air, Sherman's work is as fascinating as it's ever been.

Anyone who's been paying attention knows that Cal Duran, an Indigenous, queer, Two Spirit artist inspired by the lore and spirituality of many cultures, has seemingly possessed the superpower to do everything, everywhere, all at once over the past year or two. Wherever big displays were needed for Día de los Muertos celebrations, Duran was there, providing monumental altars, ojos de Dios, calaveras and calacas built from clay, tissue paper and found materials, sometimes at more than one venue in a single day, like a shiva with multiple arms.

In response to the lack of opportunities for trans and queer artists, Below the Concrete formed last year to showcase work from that community through DIY house shows whose location is revealed only to those who email or message the collective on social media. The group has now grown so much that it offers satellite shows from its members, emphasizing the success of Below the Concrete's mission to connect like-minded artists. And the works shown in its exhibitions serve as evidence of how DIY still incentivizes fine art, with compelling creations in myriad mediums, including fashion, sculpture, poetry, dance, painting and more.

Another new art collective, Denver Digital Land Grab, formed this year and vowed to take over Denver with virtual- and augmented-reality art, doubling down with its slogan: "We are taking space. We are NOT asking permission." The group was founded by Denver artists Corrina Espinosa and David Hanan, who were frustrated by the economic potholes artists suffered in the wake of the pandemic. Leveraging their skills with augmented reality, Espinosa and Hanan filled the city with digital art accessible by QR codes for their first exhibition, Manifest Dystopia, with each work commenting on the location in which it's positioned.

The artists in this collective have always looked to the future, and IRL Art has been a trailblazer in the realm of NFTs, virtual art/reality and augmented reality. The underground gallery helps to facilitate sales of its artists' NFTs, which include a mural by Denver street artist A.L. Grime, and it was the official art gallery for the cryptocurrency convention ETHDenver. IRL Art founder Annie Phillips was also an art steward for that conference, and even curated an exhibition of NFTs at the State Capitol that is on view through May.

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Meow Wolf

An absolute behemoth, Convergence Station comprises several different universes in which every nook and cranny bursts with art. Meow Wolf, which began as a renegade art collective in Santa Fe in 2008, landed its spaceship here in September 2021 to wild success, and showed how much it loves Denver in return by moving its Vortex music festival here last year. Now, subreddits have been dedicated to uncovering the myriad secrets of Convergence Station, though even the creative operators — the name for the character actors who roam the immersive playground — who have been there from the beginning tell us that they discover something new every day. And if you'd prefer the psychedelic experience without kids, Convergence Station hosts 21+ Adulti-Verse nights, as well as Danceportation concerts throughout the installation on select dates

Timothy Johnstone

Denver is becoming an immersive art destination, and that's all thanks to the work of local creatives seen in immersive experiences such as Spectra Art Space's Spookadelia. After opening each fall for the past five years, Spookadelia's run time has been extended almost every year as the result of its unflinching popularity. The fifth iteration, which opened in October 2022 and is still running through the end of April after multiple extensions, riffs on Carl Jung's philosophy of dreams, with playful art by local creatives, some of whose work can also be seen at Meow Wolf's Convergence Station. Follow a narrative plot with clues throughout the installation's dreamscape to uncover the name of the primary character, whose dream you're walking through — or just poke around for the fun of it!

Marc Billard

Artists Mel and Dorothy Tanner began experimenting with immersive experiences decades before it hit the mainstream, starting in Miami in the late '60s. Although the Tanners have both passed away, their legacy is kept alive at Lumonics Light & Sound Gallery, which opened in Denver in 2008, by Marc and Barbara Billard, along with archivist Barry Raphael, all of whom were part of the Tanners' collective. Lumonics Immersed is meant to be a healing experience, in which the Tanners' light sculptures pulsate to soothing music by Marc Billard. The $20 immersive happens every Saturday from 8 to 10:30 p.m., and provides a mind-expanding, unforgettable experience.

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