How do you feel about neon lights? They certainly divide opinion amongst interior designers who see them as either a fun, quirky way to personalise an interior, or as a brash accessory that should be avoided at all costs.
Neon lights conjure up gloriously gaudy images of the Las Vegas strip or UK seaside resort, boldly publicising everything from strip clubs to fish & chips.
Artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman recently played with this theme when she transformed the front of Tate Britian into a celebration of bright lights and swirling colour. For her installation Remembering a Brave New World, Burman combined Bollywood imagery, Hindu mythology, colonial history and childhood memories of visits to Blackpool.
The commission opened to coincide with Diwali, the Festival of Light, and Londoners flocked to see it. This could be because all art galleries and attractions are closed and we are starved of anything cultural, but we are also drawn, like moths to flame, to neon lights. They brighten our day.
Burman is not the only artist to explore the appeal of neon. Tracey Emin’s collection of luminous signs, feature intimate hand written messages such as ‘I listen to the ocean and all I hear is you.’ Her pink neon text ‘I Never Stopped Loving You’, was installed on the façade of Droit House, a distinctive building on the seafront in her home town of Margate.
So what is neon? It is a colourless and odourless gas that emits a brilliant red-orange glow when excited electrically (I love that phrase). In 1902 the newly discovered neon tubes were promoted as domestic lighting, but failed to catch on as customers objected to the vivid colour. They were eventually marketed as advertising signs which immediately took off.
Now, however, neon is finally being accepted into the home, where it is used to brighten up kitchens, hallways, bedrooms and living spaces. It can also be employed to draw attention to specific features within the room, such as a bar area.
Last week American brand Yellowpop launched its website in the UK, selling its customisable neon signs. The signs are not in fact neon, but LED inside flex tubing, a technique which lends the illusion of traditional neon with bright lights and intense colours, while being more durable, sustainable and affordable.
As well as Yellowpop’s permanent collection of signs and customisable options, the company has collaborated with Swedish-French graffiti artist André Saraiva, New York tattoo artist, Girl Knew York, and most recently fashion critic duo – Diet Prada.
Jeremy Cortial, co-founder, says “For us, being a lifestyle brand is about selling something that’s more than just a product. With neon signs, we are selling an emotion, a statement, a mood booster. You buy something that speaks to you, that refers to something you care about and trust.”
I think that sums up the appeal of neon lights perfectly – they are a ‘mood booster’.
Another company offering to boost our mood is UK based Light Up North who produce neon style artwork using EL wire (electroluminescent wire). The company offers a bespoke service so that anything from a Shakespeare sonnet to a child’s doodle of a dinosaur can be recreated in this flexible wire to vibrant effect. Off-the-peg artworks are also available, including framed prints of celebrities, including David Bowie and Blondie, enhanced with neon graffiti.
(The lead image shows a neon sign used in the Morris & Co Chelsea Harbour showroom. The wallpaper is Compton.)