Sunday, January 3rd 2016
The morning was occupied, as it usually is on Sundays, with a cafe breakfast and the weekly shopping trip to Sainsbury’s. This left the afternoon free for other activities, though the weather was still cold and wet. Still, if you wait for the weather in this fair land, then you are likely to wait a long time.
Our ramble started at St Paul’s where I spotted a Christmas tree between the pillars on the upper level.
By now we were looking for somewhere where we could have lunch but nothing we saw around here appealed to us, so we continued walking. (As an aside, I might say that, while it is easier these days for vegetarians to find food in cafes and restaurants, too many of these establishments still make only a token gesture, providing just one or, at most, two dull and uninteresting items, the same as all the others are offering.)
In fact, our feet carried us all the way to Covent Garden before we found anything worth a second look. In Wellington Street is the Boulevard Brasserie, which we had visited on a previous occasion. Their succulent menu contains 4 vegetarian main dishes and the serving was sufficiently large to chase away any thoughts of ordering a dessert.
We passed through Covent Garden’s market square – these days called by the twee name of ‘The Piazza’ – where the giant illuminated Christmas reindeer stands. Covent Garden was once the location of London’s main vegetable and fruit market which, having grown out of the relatively small space available, decamped to Nine Elms where it resides today. The name ‘Covent’ puzzles many people but the explanation is not difficult. This land was once the garden and orchard of the Abbey of St Peter, Westminster, probably founded in Norman times, and old documents make mention of a convent. The French word for this, couvent, is still remembered in the name, albeit slightly transformed.
We walked through Leicester Square, where a fun fair had been set up and the Big Wheel dominated the scene.
By now, the sky was dark, giving full value to the Christmas lights decorating the streets and individual buildings. The ground was wet from rain and this enhanced the effect by mirroring the lights.
The list of materials used by artists is immensely long and continues to grow. There is nothing unusual about unusual materials being used to make art. What about neon, though? Neon signs appear in a wide range of sizes and styles, advertising big brand names and smaller shops and businesses. But can the technique of making neon signs be used to make art? The answer is an emphatic yes and the doyen of ‘neon artists’ is Chris Bracey, whose studio, warehouse and shop, God’s Own Junkyard, has long been a place of pilgrimage for fans and art collectors. Bracey was also a collector and in exhibitions, his own works are often offset by religious images and other found objects.
Sadly, Chris Bracey died just over a year ago – on November 1st 2014 – at the relatively young age of 59. You will find an obituary and details of his life and work on this BBC page and on many other Web pages. The comparative unusualness of his form of art and the quality that he brought to it has ensured his fame.
In May 2015, a new art gallery opened in Brewer Street Soho. The gallery is called Lights of Soho and doubles as a members lounge and as a cafe. What brought us there (though we were happy by this time to take a coffee break) was the exhibition of Chris Bracey’s work entitled God’s Own Junkyard.
The quantity of works on view and their seemingly endless variety is dazzling (almost literally!). Mixed together are pictures, mottos and proverbs, business signs, cartoons… The tone is almost universally up-beat and there is humour. For example,…
…this sign exemplifies Bracey’s love of taking a phrase that is meaningful in one language and translating it literally into another language where its meaning is obscure.
So many works were crowded together and so numerous were they that picking out individual items to represent the whole would be as difficult as virtually inadequare. I think I will let the following scenes speak for themselves.
The above picture is a composite of several and I have left it untrimmed to avoid losing details.
We had seen smaller exhibitions by Chris Bracey (see A shop, two galleries and a church) but nothing on this scale. the sheer variety and the ingenuity of many of the pieces – pushing neon art to the limit, I imagine – is breath-taking. Whether anyone of equal stature will arise to carry neon art onward remains to be seen.