NEON curated by Jens-Peter Brask
Greg Bogin | Eddie Martinez | Jason Revok | Mason Saltarrelli | Kenny Scharf | Devin Troy Strother
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Since its invention, this distinct immediacy or directness of the neon light has been an undeniable quality in commercial contexts, because it demands attention in an uncontested manner.
Chemist and engineer Georges Claude, who is regarded as the French equivalent to Thomas Edison, originally presented neon tube lights to the public at the 1910 Paris Motor Show. Shortly after, a local barber shop was the first to employ Claude’s neon lights as advertising signs, but notable popularity didn’t arise until the new medium was introduced across the pond. On a trip to Las Vegas in 2008, Jens-Peter Brask visited the Neon Boneyard which made it clear that he’s definitely not alone in his love for neon lights, inasmuch as a whole cemetery exists to acknowledge retired neon signs. From the 1920s and onwards, neon signs became an integral part of the American landscape. As a signifier for various types of entertainment and indulgences, neon soon became related to amusement in the modern life.
Thus, the directness has also given neon lighting a connotation of something raw, unpolished, or even vulgar. It’s not an aiding spotlight: Its function is not to make something else conspicuous – Rather, the material and subject is the light itself, unadulterated. In this way, the neon sign differs from other lamps by not just being a banal object which anonymously blends in with the surroundings. It is not simply illuminating, it is emanating, whether it be the glow of blatant materialism on Times Square or the glaring sensual associations in Amsterdam’s Red-Light District.
With the medium traditionally being a part of the public domain, city life, and busy streets, the works in the exhibition reflect Jens-Peter Brask’s long-established affinity for contemporary art in more than one sense. Neon art typically reminds us of its origins in these artificial, urban environments. A lot of the works in NEON are made especially for the exhibition, and for a number of the artists, it is their first time working with the medium. Furthermore, several of the motifs found in the exhibition might just as well have been executed as regular graffiti, however, when meticulously crafted into neon tube lighting, they demand a significantly different approach from the viewer. The medium itself exudes confidence, and whichever form is materialized through the laborious process of making a neon sign – it’s quite a commitment – ostensibly suggests that it is something to be reckoned with; implying that the expression cannot simply be dismissed as being just a provisional scribble.
Greg Bogin (American, born 1965)
The paintings of New York City native Greg Bogin typically gravitates toward bright colors, friendly forms, and large expanses of uncluttered space. Distinctly influenced by the aesthetics of bike culture where stripes, logos, and gradients are frequently employed in team uniforms and bicycle paint schemes, the works seem to emanate an electric, artificial light, almost as if the paintings were plugged in. It gives them a real power, as a painting and an object in the room: “The world is dark enough, so I set out on a path of making work that hopefully makes people feel happy and creates a momentary respite for myself and the viewer.” (Artnet, 28/5/2015).
Eddie Martinez (American, born 1977)
Martinez’ expressive platform is normally reserved for painting, with the occasional found object added to the mix, retaining a rough appearance and bold colors. His works typically draw from a deep understanding of painting’s histories, filtered through personal experience, popular culture and sport. Martinez’s bold graphic style foregrounds the tension between meaning and virtuosic mark-making in painting. In the exhibition, he has transferred his style onto unknown territory, working with a completely new medium: neon light. “I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to think anything. I don’t have anything in particular in the work I want people to see, I want it all to be interpreted… That said, obviously there is something going on here.” (Studio International, 30/4/2017).
REVOK (Jason Williams, American, born 1977)
Entirely self-taught, REVOK is known for pushing creative boundaries that began in the street. “I’ve painted graffiti for 30 years now. The thing about graffiti I appreciate the most, looking back now, is that it really is this cross-cultural kind of thing that brings kids—and eventually grown adults—together. People who probably would never know one another or be open to getting to know one another.” (Detroitisit, 5/9/2019). Although his story begins with graffiti, the artist has spent the last decade focusing on his studio practice and the evolution of process and concept. Refusing to be limited by his early recognition, REVOK allows only certain elements from graffiti culture to transition to his contemporary work.
Mason Saltarrelli (American, born 1979)
First and foremost a painter, Mason Saltarrelli has ventured into creating his signature naïvistic figures in neon light, especially for this exhibition. An illuminating alligator manifests his “less is more” aesthetic and mirrors the deceptively simple lines found in his paintings. Saltarrelli creates dynamic works that reference symbols from history, religion and his personal life: “Improvising is definitely an important ingredient in my recipe. One explanation of my process is that I have a visual mental dictionary from which I pull. […] Contracting or expanding, brightening or dimming, ebbing or flowing they appear, and they disappear from piece to piece.” (Abstract, 18/5/2018).
Kenny Scharf (American, born 1958)
Kenny Scharf is an American painter and iconic street artist. His inimitable graffiti paintings gained him notoriety and fame in the New York downtown art scene of the 1980s, with his work regularly featuring stylized aliens and popular culture icons in tessellated, colorful patterns. Often painting improvisationally, many of Scharf’s playful, gestural murals still adorn New York streets to this day.
Devin Troy Strother (American, born 1986)
Devin Troy Strother is known for his darkly humorous alternative racial narratives that challenge and satirize sterotypes in american culture, while simultaniously employing tropes from art history in a variety of mediums. From paintings and installations to performance. Though sometimes visually simple in execution, Strother does not shy away from uncomfortable topics and confronts his audience with some of the most pressing issues of our time through his tragic absurdities.