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Cleveland’s DayGlo shines with annual exhibit at Waterloo Arts

Cleveland's Waterloo Arts district literally glows in the dark with an annual exhibit of works from 50 regional artists, all created with fluorescent paints from Cleveland's DayGlo Color Corporation.

“It’s fun, DayGlo paint is fun,” said Amy Callahan, executive director of Waterloo Arts. “It really is just a little bit of magic, and we could all use that joy in our life.”

The typical gallery lighting is swapped out with black light for the exhibit, making each piece of art pop off the walls.

A painting created with DayGlo fluoresces with bright colors under black light.
Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
Viewing the exhibit with 3D glasses makes the artwork appear to be floating off the walls.

“I like that for the artists, it gives them an opportunity to experiment and work with a paint they might not be familiar with, a medium that might be a little outside their comfort zone,” Callahan said.

The DayGlo Show, now in its 11th year, features paintings on canvas, mixed-media sculptures, clay creations, painted textiles and more, all utilizing paint donated by DayGlo. The exhibit runs through March at Waterloo Arts.

“There’s a lot of different styles of artwork in the show, so I think it shows the public how this paint can get used in a lot of different ways,” Callahan said.

Outside of the art realm, DayGlo colors show up practically everywhere, from traffic cones to plastic toys.

“You don’t realize it until you start looking around, you see all these bright colors, that’s mostly DayGlo,” said Tom DiPietro, vice president of research and development at DayGlo Color Corp. “We supply pigments and dyes for all manner of plastics, packaging, printing, cosmetics, all sorts of industries.”

A colorful history in Cleveland

The DayGlo story begins with two brothers, Bob and Joe Switzer, who experimented with fluorescence in the 1930s. Joe first tried out their discoveries in magic shows.

Further experiments led them to uncover the secret to daylight fluorescents. Feeling like they were on to something, the brothers established the Fluor-S-Art Co. and began selling their paints for advertising displays and movie posters.

Black and white photograph of DayGlo founders Joe and Bob Switzer experimenting with fluorescent pigments.
DayGlo Color Corp.
Joe (left) and Bob Switzer earned a living early on by selling their fluorescent colors for use in advertising posters.

From Berkeley, California, the Switzers moved their business to Cleveland to partner with Continental Lithograph, a subsidiary of Warner Bros.

During World War II, DayGlo products were used by the U.S. military in safety applications that required high visibility, such as paint on aircraft to prevent collisions.

In 1946, the two brothers ended the partnership with Continental Lithograph and struck out on their own, establishing Switzer Brothers, Inc., which was later rebranded as DayGlo Color Corp. in 1969.

Bright beginnings

The annual DayGlo art exhibit originated with Cleveland artist John Saile. While he studied art in college during the 1960s, Saile went on to become a businessman in the culinary world.

But his love for art was never far from his mind.

For the past 19 years, Saile has worked to build a career as a professional artist.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to take the plunge and get back into art,’” Saile said. “I was studying at Cleveland State University as a Project 60 student, which is a unique thing for Ohio.”

The program allows Ohio residents age 60 and older to take courses at any state-supported institution tuition-free.

Saile developed a fascination for using fluorescent paints in his artwork and had been experimenting with DayGlo colors in his paintings. His work caught the eye of Dr. Theresa Boyd, curator and owner of Doubting Thomas gallery in Tremont.

“She asked me if I would do a solo show, and I said, ‘Oh, I'd love to,’” said Saile.

An artists stands among several large canvases featuring bright colors.
John Saile
Cleveland artist John Saile continues to use DayGlo in many of his abstract paintings for added pops of color. "It's a wonderful pigment," he said.

The idea grew to invite other artists to create with fluorescent paints and Saile curated the first DayGlo show at Doubting Thomas in 2012.

“I contacted DayGlo, and they were very generous and donated several of their colors in gallon form that we poured into pint-sized containers to hand out to anybody who wanted to do DayGlo painting for the show,” Saile said. “And the first show was fabulous.”

The fourth iteration of the exhibit moved to Waterloo Arts in 2015, in part to accommodate a larger body of work as interest in the show continued to grow.

“Amy (Callahan) has really done an incredible job of drawing young people into the whole process,” Saile said. “And, you know, it's a family thing. It really is.”

Creating community

The participating artists aren’t the only ones who get to have fun with DayGlo. The exhibit offers an opportunity for visitors to try the paint out on the community wall or during a workshop.

“This show really draws in so many different people, and I love that about it,” Callahan said.

Two friends pose for a picture in a dark art gallery.
Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
Erie artist Eric Anthony Berdis, left, and Amy Callahan, executive director of Waterloo Arts, on opening night of the 2024 DayGlo Show.

A first for 2024, an artist-in-residence is on site during the exhibit’s run in March. Erie artist Eric Anthony Berdis invites visitors to stop by on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m.-4 p.m. for an art-making workshop.

“I’m inviting people to make with me, and I’m inviting them to make a bug,” Berdis said, speaking about a larger community art project he’s been working on. “I ask people to reflect on a time they felt squashed like a bug, and when was something that gave them the wings to keep going.”

Bugs created during the workshops may be donated back to Berdis, who is growing an archive that will become part of a later exhibition at Massillon Museum in 2025.

“Having people come and be able to have a guided project that they’re working on gives them, in a way, an excuse to stay a little longer and create with us,” Callahan said. “And we get to know our community a little better that way.”

Jean-Marie Papoi is a digital producer for the arts & culture team at Ideastream Public Media.