Pennsylvania-based artist formerly known as Paolo Del Toro, now Paolo Puck (“just because I like the character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and my partner and I wanted the same artist surname”) works in felt, creating larger than life, often pastel-colored sculptures of mythical heads.
Behind Paolo’s art lurks an idea: “this idea of things that are soft and inviting and comforting and things that are strange and harsh and ugly – and that you don’t know what’s what. You don’t know what’s safe and what isn’t. It goes back to those childhood memories and ideas of comfort and danger,” he said. Feelings of nostalgia, the thrill of the unknown – these emotional memories, he says, is what he hopes to evoke in those who encounter his work.
His work wasn’t always so monumental in scope. He and his partner spent five years traveling, living out of backpacks, and during that time anything he made had to be able to fit in said backpack.
The sculpture he’s created for his upcoming House of Eternal Return installation, on the other hand, is five feet wide. “It’s got a stubby nose, and he’s going to be set back in a cave with these stalactites and stalagmites,” said Paolo.
That stubby nose is purposefully-shaped so Paolo can maneuver the piece out the door of his home studio, when the time comes.
Not all of his work can actually fit out of the door. Paolo often doesn’t realize how large his pieces have gotten, until he looks back at previous pieces, only to see that he’s scaled up – way up in some cases.
A patron might be wary of the massive size and often bizarre facial features of Paolo’s heads, but will be soothed quickly by his use of felt coupled with hues of blush and powder blue and sweet daffodil.
Paolo believes the energy of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return will reverberate through his installation because the monoliths he creates are rich with ambiance – an ambiance, he says, that is too intimate for a white-walled room in a gallery. “One of the things to do with your art is just sticking it in a big white room and then having it to say, ‘Oh, it’s just for display.’ And it seems a little bit boring. I did that a few times and I felt empty afterwards.”
Paolo credits some of his inspiration to “bumbling around museums” in his hometown of York, England. “I also spend a lot of time going around to churches and looking at gargoyles and weird little things carved into them,” he says of his fondness for medieval art. Some of his sculptures do, indeed, resemble a cross between cherubs and gargoyles.
He also constantly refers back to an idea when drafting and creating — that of uncertainty. Paolo might figure that the face he’s working on is too “creepy,” then pivot and turn the snarl into a smile.
The sweet yet ghoulish snubbed-nose creature he’s made for House of Eternal Return is “a little bit like a cat, a little bit dog, a little bit weird pink dragon thing.” He doesn’t mind patrons being confused, or intrigued, or creeped out – as long as they feel something.
He hopes to complete the installation in September. The re-opening date for Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return is to be announced. You can find more of Paolo’s work at paolopuck.com or on Instagram @fluff.faun.
THIS FEATURE WAS PRODUCED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH MEOW WOLF.
Carsen Greene is the Community Manager at Meow Wolf and the co-host of Movie Mavens Podcast featuring two deeply intellectual (pending) and curious women examining two films that are (sometimes) related in genre. Call it a spicy double feature.