After high school, Neil Merryweather studied art for three years but left when the lure of making rock music became too tempting. He played the circuit in and around his hometown of Toronto with various bands before signing to Motown with The Mynah Birds with Rick James.
Neil Young was that band’s guitarist for a while. Merryweather’s second jam album, “Word of Mouth,” featured Dave Mason, Barry Goldberg and Steve Miller. He put together a band called Merryweather, drove to Los Angeles and was quickly signed by Capitol Records.
He would go on to play before audiences as large as 200,000 at the 1968 Newport Pop Festival at Devonshire Downs in Northridge, Calif., sharing the stage with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Ike and Tina Turner.
Now, art is coming back into his life. The Lakes resident’s submission, “Triangle Factory,” was recently awarded Best in Show for “Celebrating Life! 2013,” a juried art competition offered through the city of Las Vegas Arts Council and Office of Cultural Affairs.
“It’s a really ambitious piece, very creative,” said Jeanne Voltura, cultural specialist and gallery director for the city. “When I look at it, it has a lot of movement, visually, in it. ... There’s no tightness in his work. It’s got a fresh perspective that you don’t see a whole lot.”
There were 218 entries in the contest. The Best in Show win came with a $500 award.
Jurist Linda Alterwitz said she looks at the whole process of a work and how the artist took it from inspiration to its final form.
“An artist may have a great concept, yet that idea may not have the opportunity to get communicated if the same quality of attention is not given to the technical process,” she said. “I am ultimately drawn to artwork when the artist’s voice is clear and succinct.”
“Triangle Factory” began as a doodle made in a waiting room as Merryweather’s wife, Vikki, underwent a cancer treatment. It was created on a 4-inch-by- 4-inch piece of paper with the concept expanded to become a 3-foot-by-3-foot painting done in acrylics. The painting was displayed at the Charleston Heights Arts Center, 800 S. Brush St., this summer. It is scheduled to be displayed at City Hall, 495 S. Main St., July 25-Sept. 5. Hours are from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Merryweather spent his life making music, but art would nudge back into his life. He created outfits for his band and other rockers, such as Lita Ford of the Runaways. For Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe, he crafted a leather gauntlet. It became Sixx’s signature piece, and reproductions were sold worldwide to fans.
He worked with art directors on designs for dozens of album covers. Half of his own 18 albums featured his original artwork.
Vikki gestured to the paintings waiting to be hung in their home. She said many of them began as doodles, too.
“Look at these. To see how his, well, it’s his vision, just like his music,” she said. “It goes hand in hand, like the right brain thing. When he’d start working on this stuff, I’d go, ‘Really? That’s what you were imagining?’ It just blew my mind.”
The “Triangle Factory” was not his first foray into art competitions. About 12 years ago, he entered one called The Art of Soup, honoring the 50th anniversary of Andy Warhol’s soup can series. It was sponsored by Campbell Soup. He built a 2-foot-tall superhero out of soup cans and soup spoons with a cape on the back and sporting a large C for Campbell.
He won best sculpture. The win came with $5,000 and first-class seats to Pittsburgh to meet the brother of the late painter and tour the Andy Warhol Museum.
About the same time, he sculpted costumes for the Hyperion Treatment Plant, a city project for wastewater treatment near Los Angeles International Airport. For that, he came up with the concept for microbes as bugs and won a Meritorious Achievement Award from the city for them.
After years in L.A., the couple moved to Las Vegas last September. Merryweather likened the music scene here to how L.A. was years ago.
“I feel exhilarated with this city. ... This is like when I took my band to L.A. in the ’60s,” he said. “Music-wise, I’ve met so many musicians who want to play with me. Plus, there are a lot of retired A&R (artists and repertoire) people here.”
Music making was delayed while a 17-foot-by-15-foot addition was being added to the house for his new studio mix room. Now he’s ready to move his equipment into the studio so he can create music and art in the new space.
“I’ve got a lot of people in town ready to jam and a CD to be mixed and another one to start. ... I’ve been dabbling in art to keep me sane,” he said.
Art and sculpture are about to take a larger role in his life. He’s compiling 25 to 30 pieces for a one-man art show, comprised of sculpture, paintings, crafted furniture and even a giant chess set of carved and painted chess pieces 10 inches tall. It probably will be ready in 2014.
“I was bitten by the music bug a long time ago, but the artist was always in me waiting to come out,” he said.
To see more of Merryweather’s work, visit theneilmerryweather.com.
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.