designed and crafted signs for almost all the sex shops
in Soho but was also commissioned to make them for
dozens of movies. They included Neil Jordan’s Mona
Lisa, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, four Batman
films and Ridley Scott’s neon noir Blade Runner, set in
2019 Los Angeles. Before his premature death in 2014,
he saved those signs and rescued others to form the
700-strong collection in Walthamstow, east London,
dubbed God’s Own Junkyard, and described by Bracey
himself as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah mixed with art’.
Ironically, God’s Own Junkyard shares its name with
the 1964 polemic by US architect and critic Peter Blake,
whose furious attack on ‘the planned deterioration
of America’s landscape’ part-prompted the Highway
Beautification Act of 1965, a declaration of war on
‘neon, junk and ruined landscape’.
However, in 1972, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott
Browne and Steven Izenour had penned the influential
Learning from Las Vegas, which declared the neon
period in Nevada to be ‘a key episode in the history
of art’ and gave rise to a widespread reappraisal of the
In 1958, the frontage of the Stardust Casino was lit by
more than two kilometres of neon and 1000 lamps.
Built soon after, the Pylon at the Dune had more than
five kilometres of neon and 7200 lamps. Critics saw
Vegas’s neon as bloated, garish and soulless. As Ribbatt
remarks, though, Venturi et al ‘turned the debate
about vulgarity on its head...’ They compared Las
Vegas to Rome saying both cities’ private and public
spaces were similarly subject to ‘violent juxtapositions’.
Furthermore, the design of neon advertising, ‘involved
an extremely subtle creative process. There was
therefore a pressing but worthwhile need to engage
with the design, the vocabulary and the range of styles
employed by the creators of the signs.’
Neon as a craft has been in decline for far longer than
it rose. Between 1930 and 1971, Eddie’s Glass and
Neon Institute in New York claimed to have trained
85 per cent of the glass-benders in North America.
Examples of their work now populate the Las Vegas
Neon Museum’s Boneyard, while conceptual art by the
likes of Robert Watt, Bruce Nauman, Joseph Kosuth
and Tracey Emin has tended to distance neon from its
original urban setting.
Yet, if, in the cold light of night, neon creates an
anomic disconnect, it also stirs loyalty beyond
nostalgia or a moth-like attraction to the shiny-shiny.
Witness the recent, successful campaign to have an
80-year-old Pepsi-Cola sign on the Long Island City
waterfront prioritised as an official landmark, almost
literally pushing a new 25-storey residential block by
Arquitectonica into the background.
Previous spread and left: Wing
Shya’s Left Behind chronicles the
demise of neon in Hong Kong
Overleaf: neon still shines out
in small town America – Toms
River, New Jersey