Chris Bracey – I’ve Looked Up to Heaven and Been Down to Hell at Scream Gallery
Neon, it seems, is having its heyday. No longer reserved for dodgy strip clubs in the depths of Soho, nor for tacky signs pasted in fairgrounds, the medium now screams: “classy, art, celebrity!” And scream it does, for neon, with its permanent on-ness, loudness and obviousness, is a type of art that can’t help but dominate the space it’s in.
Scream Gallery’s exhibition of Bracey’s work is a blow to the senses: as you step into the hot interior, so many bulbs flashing and twinkling, and wonder where to start. The work in the exhibition uses found sculptures of angels and wings (it makes you worry that Bracey has been plundering London graveyards at night) and old hotel signs around which he drapes his iconic light art. The pieces that impress are the ones that take something from pop culture, such as his There is a Light That Never Goes Out or Shine a Light in the Darkness of Your Soul, which are lessons in typography as much as in the versatility of neon.
As a medium, neon can only be contemporary. Unlike other media, it is relatively new. Painting and sculpture, for example, come with centuries of history, preconceptions, nuances and stylistic associations. Associations with neon are few, but lingering: sex shops, cityscapes and fairgrounds. Bracey’s work takes these and embraces them, exploiting the excitement and tackiness of the light into something covetable and imbued with celebrity.
The themes of heaven and hell run through the exhibition, apparently alluding to Bracey’s own biography – presumably from plumbing the depths of Soho nightlife to the heaven of his now cult status as artist for the stars. Some pieces are clever, using the idiosyncrasies of the medium to make a statement, as in Hotel Love/Hot Burning Love, where the dual messages are shown alternately as different words light up. In others, Bracey is complacent, riding on the assumed associations of neon and all its abrasive splendour, and thus attempting nothing new or progressive.
The exhibition takes for granted neon’s inherent attributes, sitting comfortably on signs that smack of Vegas, representative of urbanism and little. Although technically very accomplished, Bracey’s art is not radical. It may look impressive, but it feels like there’s very little beneath the surface.