Retro trend lights up Lon­don’s labyrinth of neon

Muscat Daily - - FEATURES -

Whether in search of a glow­ing skull or a bright red heart, God's Own Junk­yard in Lon­don is a maze of mul­ti­coloured 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 cul­ture, 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 im­age clutch- ing two blue re­volvers, which has been sold but never picked up by its new owner.

The hip, disco-like space has evolved from suit­ably colour­ful 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-and­com­ing east Lon­don neigh­bour- hood, Waltham­stow.

Bracey’s late fa­ther, Chris, be­came a ma­jor sup­plier of neon signs to the shops of Lon­don’s Soho district.

But, as the neigh­bour­hood 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.

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 colours, 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 glob­al­i­sa­tion”, 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 per cent of his clients. And the fu­ture looks bright for God’s Own Junk­yard. Bracey’s two chil­dren say the yard pro­vides an ex­cit­ing and colour­ful 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.


An ar­ray of neon lights and signs is dis­played in­side God’s Own Junk­yard gallery, cafe and work­shop in Waltham­stow, east Lon­don

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