Culture: Visual Arts

Chris Bracey: I’ve Looked Up To Heaven And Been Down To Hell

Chris Bracey

This neon artist’s show is literally the brightest one around – it assaults your senses with vivid splashes of technicolour and punchy one-liners.

Scream gallery has committed an act of creative vandalism, as a brightly lit neon dagger, with ‘Hell’ written on the hilt, pierces through the window of the gallery, with shards of glass scattered on the grill above the basement offices.

The very function of neon is to grab your attention. It’s impossible not to swivel your eyeballs to the glowing lights. Advertising uses it very effectively, whether it’s a call to Las Vegas gambling or to get your Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Bracey’s show is an intoxicating mix of kaleidoscopic colours and emotive words such as ‘Love’, ‘Hate’ and ‘Sin’. It’s reminiscent of conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s early work – after all, she started in advertising and was superb at subverting messages such as ‘Your body is a battleground.’

Religious imagery is used to good effect by Bracey, and one wonders whether he’s a lapsed Catholic. One of the most arresting pieces is the Jesus Christ statue, which is holding blazing neon guns. The three-quarter sized image, which looks as if it might have been pilfered from a church, stands on a pedestal bedecked with gaudy pink and yellow light bulbs.

What gives Bracey’s work a real depth and originality is the use of found objects. There’s the pure, almost dazzlingly clean light of the neon, mixed together with rusted old signage and lettering as well as fairground lights and vintage signs.

It might seem like Bracey has just exploded on to the art scene. He’s a much sought-after artist, with high-profile clients such as Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Elton John, Kate Moss, Mark Zuckerburg and Jay Z. Most recently, he designed a neon lightning bolt for the Bowie exhibition at the V&A. There’s money in neon, and his work can sell for around £20,000.

But as with many ‘instant successes’ Bracey has been quietly plugging away at his art for over 30 years. Becoming a neon artist isn’t an easy path, but Bracey was following in his father’s footsteps, who was a neon sign-maker for fairgrounds and amusement arcades.

The artist has found his metier in the themes that this current show explores such as love, sex, sin, heaven and hell. At the show’s opening night, which Bracey said was more like the opening of a nightclub than an art show, many works were snapped up, and Professor Green walked away the proud owner of the Saint and Sin piece.

As Bracey says, “Like any work of art, it’s got spirit. Neon is only happy when it’s on, when it’s alive.”

Chris Bracey – I’ve Looked Up To Heaven And Been Down To Hell is on until 1 June 2013

Words: Fiona Keating

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