Almost exactly eight years ago, local artist Garrett Weider was laid off from his job at American Greetings. Turning an obstacle into an opportunity, Weider pursued his personal creative interests, freelancing and creating large-scale murals filled with imagery celebrating his hometown. Weider returned to American Greetings in 2011, and has happily worked part-time for the past six years.
That interim, however, became a catalyst for his artistic career, and in hindsight his efforts were perfectly timed to parallel Cleveland's renaissance. Now arguably one of the most recognizable artists in the region, Weider's trademark style takes a new direction with his first exhibition of painted vinyl records, opening at Loop this week as part of Walkabout Tremont.
"I took a few weeks and drove across the country, I made a big loop to the West Coast and back, staying in different cities along the way," Weider says of his time away from American Greetings. "It was a weird time, no job and my girlfriend just dumped me. But at the same time, it was like a whole new beginning. I'm an optimist! Once I got back, I started to think seriously about really making it as an artist. What does it really take? That time was like a springboard to go for it. Before that, I had an occasional show, but nothing really took off. It wasn't clicking in my brain. It's tough with a full-time job, plus overtime, then try and build a career as an artist on top of that. It never worked. But when I was laid off, which I knew was going to happen and was looking forward to, I saw this as an opportunity to go for it. You only live once and I'd forever regret it if I didn't try. I chose to really focus and keep creating."
Originally more interested in experimenting with styles and subject matter, Weider's early work lacked cohesion as he attempted to create something new each time. Weider eventually found inspiration in both his city and legendary pop artist Andy Warhol.
"I needed to essentially build my 'brand,' for lack of a better word," Weider says. "People need to recognize my work; it needs to get out there. People need to notice it and keep seeing it around. So maybe I'm taking a page from Warhol by using repetition to get noticed."
After returning home from his cross-country road trip, Weider had a newfound appreciation for Cleveland. Since then, Weider's personal success has paralleled the city's rise. As the region's pride has swelled, Weider's love of Cleveland has made him one of the city's most active artists over the past decade.
"I'm not sure if there was a eureka moment, but it seemed the more I traveled, the more I liked Cleveland," Weider says. "So I kept doing Cleveland-themed work and it kept selling. So I kept doing more Cleveland work! At the same time, I could feel the underdog mentality around town. People had a Cleveland pride in a self-deprecating way. I love it! And now we see all kinds of great things going on, it's awesome. I remember hanging out in Tremont 15 years ago and it was pretty rough, but you could see things happening. People were coming back into the city. There were little pockets of cool spots and you could see the resurgence coming."
Today, Weider's work can be seen at venues all over town, including smaller paintings for sale at Cleveland Clothing Company and Native Cleveland, as well as murals at Viking Technology in Westlake, Campus International School near downtown, CLE Urban Winery on Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights, Orange Theory Fitness in Mentor, and even the new Crocker Park world headquarters of his longtime employer, American Greetings. A graduate of Ohio University, Weider holds a degree in graphic design, but he spent a large amount of his time studying painting. "That was my passion, but I liked design too and it was a more sensible degree to get a job," he says.
After painting on everything from guitars to skateboards, Weider recently began experimenting with painting on vinyl records collected from thrift stores and Loop's dollar bins in Tremont. Opening with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. this Friday, April 14, in conjunction with April's Walkabout Tremont, Weider's The Great Wall of Vinyl fills Loop's huge exhibition wall with more than 200 new, painted records, all featuring variations of Weider's trademark Cleveland imagery.
"I can't take credit for the idea. Last year I saw some friends painting on records at the Cleveland Flea," Weider says. "Then I saw some art on vinyl at 78th Street Studios. I've painted guitars, snowboards, canvas, skate decks, under bridges: Why didn't I think of vinyl records?"
The Great Wall of Vinyl remains on view at Loop through May 11 during regular hours.