Retro trend light­ing up Lon­don’s labyrinth of neon

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

LON­DON — Whether in search of a glow­ing skull or a bright red heart, God’s Own Junk­yard in Lon­don is a maze of mul­ti­col­ored neon of all shapes and sizes which is thriv­ing on its retro rep­u­ta­tion.

In a vast ware­house in the east of the Bri­tish cap­i­tal sits Eu­rope’s big­gest col­lec­tion of neon signs.

“In here we’ve got 1,400 pieces,” said the cre­ative di­rec­tor of God’s Own Junk­yard, Mar­cus Bracey, walk­ing through the trea­sure trove of bright­ly­il­lu­mi­nated tubes.

Most are for sale — a heart with the Bri­tish flag em­bla­zoned with “God Save the Queen” across it, for in­stance, or an enor­mous pair of bright red lips with a tongue reach­ing out to the top of an ice cream cone.

“We’ve got a mix­ture of sex, con­tem­po­rary art, ev­ery­thing,” said Bracey.

“From love through lust, ev­ery­thing’s here.”

Some of the signs date back to the 1950s, while oth­ers can cost thou­sands of pounds, such as a cow­boy-like Je­sus Christ clutch­ing two blue re­volvers, which has been sold but never picked up by its new owner.

The hip, disco-like space has evolved from suit­ably col­or­ful ori­gins through sev­eral gener- ations of Bracey’s fam­ily.

The col­lec­tion of neon was be­gun by Bracey’s grand­fa­ther, a for­mer coal miner, in the 1950s.

Bracey, 43, jokes that his grand­fa­ther “came up from the dark to the light” and found his pas­sion af­ter leav­ing the mines to work for a light­ing com­pany.

Neon tech­nol­ogy was first de­vel­oped in 1910 by Georges Claude, a French chemist who was look­ing for a cheaper way to pro­duce oxy­gen for hos­pi­tals.

Since his re­mark­able find­ing that dif­fer­ent gases pro­duced an ar­ray of vivid col­ors, neon has gone on to con­quer the world of ad­ver­tis­ing.

From Paris to New York, it re­mains “one of the great sym­bols of the 20th cen­tury, sig­ni­fy­ing in turn the util­i­tar­ian con­quest of the night” and “elec­tric glob­al­iza­tion”, wrote philoso­pher Luis de Mi­randa in his es­say Be­ing and Neon on the cul­tural his­tory of neon signs.

“In the 1980s, there was a big shrink in de­mand and neon work­shops were all clos­ing. We thought al­most it was the end of neon,” Bracey said.

“But it has come back.”

NIKLAS HALLEN’N / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Pa­trons re­lax at God’s Own Junk­yard gallery, cafe and work­shop in Waltham­stow, East Lon­don, which of­fers a labyrinth of neon signs.

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