Retro trend lights up Lon­don's labyrinth of neon

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

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 brightly-il­lu­mi­nated 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 cow­boy­like Je­sus Christ clutch­ing two blue re­volvers, which has been sold but never picked up by its new owner.

From seedy Soho to Hol­ly­wood

The hip, disco-like space has evolved from suit­ably col­or­ful ori­gins through sev­eral gen­er­a­tions 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. It was the next gen­er­a­tion that de­vel­oped the busi­ness, now based in the up-and-com­ing east Lon­don neigh­bor­hood, Waltham­stow.

Bracey's late fa­ther, Chris, be­came a ma­jor sup­plier of neon signs to the sex shops of Lon­don's Soho district. But, as the neigh­bor­hood started to shed its seedy rep­u­ta­tion, signs such as the neon-lit shapely fig­ure of a woman, be­gan find­ing their way to God's Own Junk­yard. The fam­ily has also pro­duced signs for film shoots, such as the flash­ing dragon sign used in Ri­d­ley Scott's "Blade Run­ner" in 1982 -- Bracey vows he will never sell it. A rain­bow sign was also crafted for Stan­ley Kubrick's 1999 film "Eyes Wide Shut" star­ring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kid­man.

Neon 'in our blood'

While the buy­ers have changed, the tech­nol­ogy has hardly evolved. 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. But de­spite a boom in the bright lights, the in­dus­try has faced tough times. "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," he said, with the help of in­di­vid­ual buy­ers in search of retro de­signs, which make up 50 per­cent of his clients. And the fu­ture looks bright for God's Own Junk­yard. Bracey's two chil­dren say the yard pro­vides an ex­cit­ing and col­or­ful play­ground and that they are aware of its im­por­tance in their fam­ily his­tory. "It's al­ways been in our blood, in our DNA!" one of them said. — AFP

An ar­ray of neon lights and signs are dis­played in­side the Junk­yard gallery.

Pa­trons re­lax at a Junk­yard gallery, cafe and work­shop in Waltham­stow, East Lon­don.

An ar­ray of neon lights and signs are dis­played in­side the Junk­yard gallery.

A pa­tron re­laxes amidst an ar­ray of neon lights and signs is dis­played in­side the Junk­yard gallery, cafe and work­shop.

An ar­ray of neon lights and signs is dis­played in­side the Junk­yard gallery, cafe and work­shop.

An ar­ray of neon lights and signs are dis­played in­side the Junk­yard gallery.

An ar­ray of neon lights and signs is dis­played in­side a Junk­yard gallery, cafe and work­shop in Waltham­stow, East Lon­don. — AFP pho­tos

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