Soho neon pioneer Chris Bracey’s 40-year career is being honoured with an exhibition of his work at a new gallery dedicated to the neighbourhood’s illuminating heritage. Lights of Soho, on Brewer Street, is hosting the show which draws on Chris’s dazzling Walthamstow archive God’s Own Junkyard. The event was conceived while Chris was in the final stages of prostate cancer, and his family have decided to go ahead with it as a fitting tribute to the life and career of a true original.
Chris Bracey was scraping by as a graphic designer in the early 1970s, but with his first son on the way, he joined his dad Dick’s neon sign firm for more job security. However, Chris quickly saw that making fairground and amusement arcade lights was seasonal work, and that he needed a way to make the business more… current. His solution? “Sex. I’ll make money through sex – not selling it, but by making the signs that do.” And so he began transforming the red light district into something more colourful entirely. By the mid-70s Chris was resigning Soho’s infamous strip clubs, using innovative techniques to introduce a rainbow of colour and exotic typography informed by his training in graphic design.
It was while installing a sign for a strip club that Chris was approached by the Art Director of the Oscar-winning Bob Hoskins film Mona Lisa; he wanted the signmaker to get him access to film inside one of the area’s seedier clubs. Chris agreed, on condition that he could make some signs for the film. Thus began another chapter in Chris’s remarkable story, and work followed on Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, four Batman films and Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory among many others.
Chris was an avid collector of all kinds of signs, and often reworked salvaged finds into new pieces; the combination of vintage and contemporary made Chris’s work highly collectible. As well as commercial success, Chris also found recognition as an artist in his later career, putting on acclaimed gallery shows and sending examples of his work to events such as Art Basel Miami. His God’s Own Junkyard site continues to burn brightly as a testament to Chris’s talent for, and love of, all things neon. Get turned on to the brilliant work of Chris Bracey at new light-art gallery Lights of Soho until 18 January 2015.