Let’s Talk About Neon Lights

Julia and I have been obsessed with neon signage for ages. In this post, I share some of my personal favourites.

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By: Alia Khan

If you follow my aesthetic tumblr you’ll notice that I’m really into neon lights and slightly sad poetic nonsense. And I’ve just discovered that there are artists out there that pretty much cater to those exact things. There’s something about poetry written in bright neon letters that make half of me feel nostalgic and the other half feel like I’m looking at a relic from a weird post-apocalyptic future when our robot overlords finally kicked the bucket. It’s not just neon lettering, it’s the use of light in art installations as well. There’s something so surreal about walking in a room with odd lighting. Even photographs of room installations are awesome, everybody looks like they’re walking around in a distant future.

But it’s not just neon lettering, it’s the use of light in art installations as well. Images of people walking around in an oddly lit room is so surreal. It feels like I’m watching a weird sci-fi film. You know, the ones from the eighties that try to predict what the future will be like? Think Blade Runner. I feel like I’m looking at photographs from a distant future, that someone from the past imagined.

Basically, this weekend I’ve been surfing the web, as we do in this day and age, and I’ve found a few of my personal favourites.

1. Kelly Mark / a Canadian artist, her work is mostly based on her everyday life

kmark

Website

2. Robert Montgomery / artist, poet, and he’s got an accent

rmont

Website

3. Jung Lee / most known for making pretty signs based on themes of love and romance

lee

Website

4. Bruce Nauman / an American artist, who dabbles in just about every medium

bruce

Website

5. James Turrell / is anyone else getting Hotline Bling vibes?

jtureel

Website

6. Yayoi Kusama / a Japanese artist and writer and also she literally made the galaxy

space

Website

7. Bruce Munro / primarily a light artist, he is known for creating large installations

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What’s Up With All These Lights Anyways?

A scientist once said, “the blaze of crimson light from the tube told its own story and was a sight to dwell upon and never forget.” I kinda get that vibe too but it’s always nice when science agrees. While the discovery of Neon gas reaches all the way back to Tesla himself, let’s start somewhere a little closer to our end of the timeline.

Neon lighting was common during the early to mid-90s, usually seen as signage and in advertising. It was extremely popular in America during this time, to the point where at least one sign could be found in just about every city block. Times Square is a great example of neon lighting’s popularity, considering the place it literally (get it?) lit up 24/7. Post-World War II, however, there has been a steep decline in its prevalence in current marketing strategies.

Perhaps this is why neon lighting invokes such nostalgic feelings – it is a product of the past. And trust me, the artists have noticed. While Neon lighting might not be a popular choice for the local convenience store to advertise their products, the works of art people have created are certainly a sight to see. ‘Light Art’ was first conceptualized in the early 1900s and it marks the movement of viewing lighting as the primary medium for artistic expression, rather than just a tool (think using lighting for photography, or painting at different times of the day).

Widely considered the pioneer of this movement is El Lissitszky, with his piece Prounenraum. It’s not exactly as ‘lit up’ as you’d think, but the reason he’s given this credit is that it’s one of the first time the lighting used in the installation was considered invaluable to the piece itself. Without the lighting, the installation is incomplete.

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Prounenraum (1923)

Since then, with the invention of electrical artificial light, artists have been using lighting as the main component of their artwork. It’s crazy to think of what Light Art looks like now, from its small beginnings.

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