Name In Lights: Chris Bracey
When it comes to neon lights, there is one name that shines brighter than any other.
The “master of glow”, neon artist Chris Bracey built a cult following during a prolific career spanning 40 years. Speaking shortly before he passed away in November last year, he reflected on how it all began. “It all started here for me in Soho. I was up a ladder, making a sign for a strip joint when the art director of [the film] Mona Lisa asked if I could help him get permission to film in one of the clubs. They wanted somewhere authentically seedy I think. I said I’d do it if I could make something for the film. I did – and never looked back. After that there was Bladerunner, Eyes Wide Shut, Batman.” And after that, there were commissions from international fashion houses, rock stars. Bracey had transformed neon signs into a recognised artform.
Bracey created signage for the majority of Soho’s infamous establishments and completely reinvented the area with a colourful cornucopia of fairground signs and neon typography. “I did 99 percent of every sex establishment in Soho for 20 years,” he told the BBC last year. “For me, it was an artistic endeavour.”
So it’s very appropriate that London’s newest art gallery, Lights of Soho, should be the venue to host a celebration of Chris Bracey’s remarkable work.*
Sited on Soho’s Brewer Street, Lights of Soho is an exhibition space dedicated to showcasing “cultural lights”. From neon light art to other artworks incorporating light, the space will continually evolve and change and welcome artists from around the globe. It’s also set to offer food and drink and a members bar, so there will be plenty of reasons to drop in over the coming months.
Chris Bracey once reflected that “neon has a soul, it lives at night creating poetry with light, promising love in Soho or hot bagels all night.” Some of his iconic works, such as “Sex, Drugs & Bacon Rolls”, promote both at once! From small tabletop pieces to giant, mesmerising wall-mounted signage and even a 6-foot Jesus holding neon pistols… the exhibition includes some of the best works from his 40-year career. It’s all very bold and very bright. It’s all brilliant.
Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet Chris Bracey. But I’ve been a fan of his work for as long as I can remember. If you haven’t experienced it for yourself, head down to the exhibition at Lights of Soho before 18th January*. And if you’re ever looking for somewhere to lose an afternoon, visit Bracey’s studio-warehouse God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow, where every conceivable surface and space is occupied by new and used neon creations, salvaged and vintage signage and old movie props. It’s a remarkable riot of colour and a lasting testament to Chris Bracey’s sense of humour and singular creative genius.
* Please note, the exhibition at Lights of Soho has now ended.
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