Art | Need To Now

The artist who carries a torch for neon

A pop-up show of Chris Bracey’s vibrant hand-crafted neon art

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The artist who carries a torch for neon

November 03 2011
Dominic Lutyens

Neon signs might seem tawdrily commercial to some, but to others, including Chris Bracey, who’s been hand-crafting them for more than 30 years, they’re imbued with romance. So passionate is he about them that he describes them in anthropomorphic terms: “Neon has soul, a spirit. They’re made by man, not machines, with blood, sweat and tears.” Now he’s exhibiting a mix of old and new pieces at a pop-up shop called God’s Own Junkyard (the name of his workshop) at Daniel Poole’s gallery, The Old Hardware Store, in London, from November 3 to January 12.

A graphic designer in the 1970s, Bracey – who’s influenced by Las Vegas, “especially its neon graveyard with its rusting neon beauties”, and by artist Dan Flavin, famous for his light sculptures – jazzed up the lacklustre exteriors of Soho sex shops with sassier signage. Now creatives flock to him for his theatrical neon pieces. Scenes in films such as Eyes Wide Shut and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are a-twinkle with them. They’ve also illuminated shop displays for labels including Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. And he has collaborated with Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed.

This show will sell pieces from Bracey’s ironic, pop art-inspired series, The Seven Deadly Sins, one of which spells out “Gluttony” in a typeface wittily mimicking mustard squirted on a hot dog (£15,000). The same playful cynicism underpins his scarlet, loveheart-shaped sign fronted by the word “Lust” (£22,000). By contrast, his sign “Love”, framed by reclaimed timber, comes in tender, crepuscular violets and dusky pinks (second picture, £3,000).

“Neon lights have been overtaken by the LED screen – there’s only one neon light sign left in Piccadilly Circus,” says Bracey mournfully – although he, for one, is keeping the neon trend’s flame well and truly alive.

First picture: Chris Bracey’s “Rock & Roll”, £10,500.