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