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Big in Japan

Artist and CAC gallery attendant Mike Weber travels to Japan for his first international solo art exhibition

By Maria Seda-Reeder · June 11th, 2014 · Visual Art
screen shot 2014-06-11 at 11.11.21 am copyMike Weber - Carson Neff

By the time you read this, Patrick Cost — Direct Support Professional (DSP) for Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled (LADD) — and his friend and charge, artist Mike Weber, will be in Japan. This is the first visit to the country for both, and they’ve been planning the trip for nearly two years.

Several years ago, Weber, who works as a gallery attendant at the Contemporary Arts Center, received a friendly invitation to visit Japan from co-worker and friend Sean Dunn, who was leaving the CAC to teach English there. From then on, Weber’s mind was made up.

“I went, [shrugs] alright!” says the artist, who speaks openly and confidently, if with a slight speech impediment. Shortly thereafter, Weber began a conversation about going to Japan with Cost, whom he calls his “main staff person.”

Cost is a full-time DSP for LADD, and a heavily tattooed ex-drummer for local Metal/Punk bands I Fail and Lost Hands Found Fingers, as well as a new father to 11-month-old twins; he has worked with Weber — an abstract painter with an ever-evolving yet vernacular visual language — for almost five years. 

Weber, a lanky 54-year-old with frosted tips (he convinced Cost to put them in his hair before a recent fundraising event last month), was an early member of Visionaries + Voices and now shows at other local and regional art galleries like Open Door Art Studio in Columbus, Ohio. As part of their trip to Japan, Weber will have his first international solo exhibition at SoHo Art Gallery in Osaka and will give an artist talk about his work.

Weber doesn’t require around-the-clock care like some of the other LADD clients for whom Cost provides services. He often goes days without needing any help, but before Weber’s mother passed away, she set him up with LADD because, he says, “She was worried about me. … She wanted me to do everything I need to do.” Things like grocery shopping, going to the doctor’s office and navigating public transit can be necessary but difficult to varying degrees for Weber, and she had the foresight to know that he would excel when given the assistance to fly.  

Indeed, Weber’s family (whom Cost calls “awesome”) has been very influential in his artistic life.

The artist’s brother-in-law, Bob Scheadler, is a photographer with Daylight Photo studio in the Essex Studios, where Weber and his sister Christine Scheadler work as studio manager and office manager, respectively. Not coincidentally, Essex is also where V+V was located before moving to Northside several years ago, so he has been aptly exposed to artistic encouragement. 

Weber’s memory and understanding of time often betray him. “Sometimes dates are tough to remember for Mike,” Cost says. But it’s clear when speaking with both of them that, despite allowing Weber ample time and space for expression, Cost knows when to cut into the conversation on Weber’s behalf. And there is a comfortable rapport between the two that seems built on mutual trust and respect.

Weber’s cheerful spirit is likely one of the reasons he has achieved so much thus far.

Bright-eyed and funny, the artist initially created what he calls “sandwich making” pieces, wherein he applied paint to paper before “smashing” it against a canvas — a process similar to a piece of art currently hanging on the walls of the CAC in Michael Stillion’s brilliantly curated Shall I Tell You the Secret of the Whole World?. The topographical Samuel T. Adams’ piece (“Terra Nova IV”) in the aforementioned show is an acrylic transfer on canvas, visually mimicking structural depth. But whereas Adams, a trained printmaker, builds up his canvas, leaving behind thick layers of color, Weber’s application of the same idea (applying paint to canvas via a secondary surface) seems to recede into oblivion — resulting in an obliteration of color and space.

Despite his penchant for using putty knives to build up and subsequently scrape away paint from the surface of his work, Weber admittedly (and hilariously) keeps prop artist paint brushes around his studio to give visitors the impression that he is an artist. And he keenly discusses the concerns of materials (plywood is easier to scrape down, canvas trickier) like any other thoughtful artist who is interested in pushing the boundaries of his medium. Showing and talking about his art in Japan will be a natural next step Weber is well equipped to do.

When they were making travel arrangements, Cost confesses that Weber had to remind him that they were going on vacation and he didn’t want to “be like a robot.” They plan to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, stay in a capsule hotel and traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan and visit shrines and gardens; but Weber is mostly just excited to experience Japanese culture up close and personal.  

“I want to do a lot of nightlife,” Weber says, referring to the 24-hour party vibe of Tokyo with a mischievous glimmer in his eye.  

“We’ve discussed that,” Cost says. “There will be a point of time in every day that I’m not at work anymore.”

“I’m going to keep you to it!” Weber threatens jokingly.

And with a slight giggle Cost replies, “That’s fine.”

The truth is, both of them could use a bit of a break — even if leaving the country isn’t the first thing that either of them would’ve chosen for themselves right now. 

Only days before embarking on their journey, Cost lost his mother-in-law (family is big in both his and Weber’s lives) whom he calls one of his best friends. She was supposed to help Cost’s wife watch the twins while he’s out of the country for almost two weeks. 

For Weber’s part, he is looking forward to an adventure — and being at least semi-autonomous on this journey is an important part of demonstrating his independence.

“I don’t need to prove it to nobody,” Weber says genuinely.  “I want to do it my own because I figure, I’m working at my job, I got a good family.” And, after a brief pause, he says, “I can’t do it when I’m dead!” ©

See more of MIKE WEBER’s work here



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