Back before there were tollways to nowhere, and outlet malls, and condo canyons, in the years on either side of WWII, America found what it needed in shopping centers and storefronts, often out on the edge of some jurisdiction or other, and neon was the language spoken. Products and services were offered -- or screamed -- and transactions were suggested in ways that now seem equally timeless and dated, innocent and ironic. When Neon’s dominance as a means of handmade communication began to give way to the presumed respectability and durability of white plastic rectangles with white or black helvetica letters, it became the province of those businesses -- seedy, sinful, and seductive -- who needed its lurid intensity to hawk their wares.
Neon signs had been the finest amalgamation of crafts available -- the sculpture of the metalsmith's “can,” the wild colors and lettering of the signpainter and the electric-line-drawing-in-light of the neon tubebender--all layered together like an elaborate confection.
In the “new age” of white plastic boxes, the neon signs clung to life in the shadows and darkness, and got adapted by new owners who couldn’t afford new-look signs. And with these changes, the carefully interlocked confections began to crumble. Paint weathered, or was painted over. Businesses changed. Neon broke, or was replaced without changing the paint or shape underneath. And in this decay, and in these re-purposings, irony and beauty blossomed like flowers in a landfill.
These permutations seem to appeal to me more than a pristine sign : as if the struggle to survive the ravages of time and the elements, and shifts in taste and economies enobled the sheer tenacity of these relics. These signifiers.
ALL of the neon pieces used in this show are leftovers from decades of dead businesses and abandoned sign projects. They are true relics. I have simply invented a “backstory” in sheet metal and paint to frame them.
They are -- as always -- meant to be viewed as artifacts from a lost culture…that might be our own.