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How Davide Weaver Cheated Death — and Revived St. Louis' Festival Scene

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Weaver's work on display at Cosmic Reunion - PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL
  • PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL
  • Weaver's work on display at Cosmic Reunion

As an artist, Weaver is at something of a crossroads. Last year, he sold his shares in 2720 Cherokee. And after two failed attempts at turning things over to a new president of Art Dimensions to relieve his workload, he allowed the nonprofit to dissolve last year.

"The one thing I dedicated to myself this last year is that I want to get my art out, and I need to let go of some things to be able to do that," Weaver says. "I have freed up a lot of time, because taking care of a bunch of other artists in a nonprofit is like herding cats: Some of them want to come up and cuddle with you; some want to come up and scratch you."

On one hand, Weaver's latest artistic phase appears to be flourishing. His meticulous recreations of key Star Wars battles spent years drawing oohs and ahhs from patrons at 2720 Cherokee, and similarly ambitious exhibits — including a four-foot diameter Death Star made from old computer parts and action figures — drew crowds to City Museum earlier this year.

He's also finding a way to merge his artistic skills with commercial opportunities. In the same year Taste of St. Louis fled to Chesterfield, Weaver and Landau launched the World's Fare Heritage Festival. Now preparing for its third year, its first in the World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park, the festival (August 19-21) brings together many of the same components as Weaver's idealized early version of Taste of St. Louis — food, music and art — while adding commemorative exhibits honoring St. Louis industry and and the legacy of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

But Weaver's life, already marked by tragedy, has hit rough patches as well. In January 2015, doctors found a tumor growing inside his left ear. Weaver's friends came to his aid, raising money for his surgery with benefit concerts and a GoFundMe campaign. Now the father of a seven-year-old boy, Weaver says his doctors have given him a clean bill of health.

Finally, over Memorial Day weekend, Weaver takes a full day to focus on his art. Along with a team of assistants, he makes the 45-minute drive to Cosmic Reunion, a four-day music and arts festival in the Astral Valley that's along the lines of a Missouri-based Burning Man.

This is his second year making the trip. His first time, Weaver says he did brisk business selling collage-painted vinyl records. Making money from his art is "something I've gotten away from a little bit," he adds, but he's trying to force himself to focus. After so many years supporting other artists' visions, he admits that promoting his own work feels somewhat unnatural.

At his spot near Cosmic Reunion's main stage, Weaver spends hours building a nautical-themed installation piece, a stage for a nighttime performance. He'll spend even more time applying dabs of Day-Glo body paint to two female models in mermaid costumes.

Around 9:30 p.m., a network of black lights brings his work to startling life. Many festivalgoers walking by the stage become rooted to the spot, hypnotized by the psychedelic mermaids. The models' faces glow orange and pink, the layers of paint smoothing their expressions into identical mirrors of serenity. One bystander, enraptured and clearly stoned, mutters to himself, "Are those girls real?"

Weaver observes from afar, scarred arms crossed over his chest. After a few moments, he gestures at one of the models to leave the stage. He retrieves a compact case of paint and adds a few more streaks to her ribs and neck. The stage and lights look good, sure, but the tableau is not quite there yet. Weaver can always find room for more color.

Weaver adds a touch of blue paint to a model's face during an installation showcase at last month's Cosmic Reunion festival. - PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL
  • PHOTO BY STEVE TRUESDELL
  • Weaver adds a touch of blue paint to a model's face during an installation showcase at last month's Cosmic Reunion festival.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story referred incorrectly to Taste of St. Louis' timing. It began during the Schoemehl administration, but also ran for a few years during the administration of Schoemehl's successor. We regret the error.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_ Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com

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