Date of Birth: 25 December 1954, Walthamshow, London, UK
Birth Name: Chris Bracey
Chris Bracey was a fluorescent tube artist known as “the master of glow”, whose exuberant neon artworks gave a sleazy aura to numerous Soho sex shops, featured as props in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and were collected by sundry “celebs”.
Bracey was also a collector in his own right, running a studio-cum-warehouse called God’s Own Junkyard in Walthamstow, which housed one of the biggest collections of kitchy neon signs and sculptures outside America. The collection included vintage fair and carnival signs, girlie show promos and original pieces made on site.
Bracey’s 40-year career saw him transform neon signage into an art form. His commissions included a giant neon “Aladdin Sane” lightning bolt for the 2013 V&A Bowie exhibition; a neon “Roc Nation” sign for Jay-Z’s record label; and, for Kate Moss, a £100,000 hot pink artwork of her own name. For the rapper Professor Green, he created Saint and Sin, a 160 cm square neon sculpture featuring a pair of open legs at the bottom, and an angel in a cloud at the top.
Last year, he had staged his first solo exhibition, I’ve Looked Up to Heaven and Been Down to Hell, at Scream in London, to which visitors were greeted by a giant neon dagger appearing to burst on to the street through the windows of the gallery, and which featured a collection of works playing on religious iconography, including The Hands of God, a life-size statue of Jesus, clutching a pair of neon pistols.
“Neon has a soul, it lives at night creating poetry with light, promising love in Soho or hot bagels all night,” Bracey reflected.
Christopher Bracey was born on Christmas Day 1954 in Walthamshow where his father, a former miner from south Wales, had established his own signmaking business, Electro Signs, working mainly for fairgrounds and amusement arcades.
Bracey learnt to work with the glass tubes and gases at an early age and, after studying at art college and a stint at a Soho graphics agency, he joined the family business. The Soho landlord Paul Raymond became his first customer, commissioning a light for his Revuebar. The result, promising “Girls Girls Girls” set the tone for other commissions in the district such as “Love Upstairs”. “I did 99 percent of every sex establishment in Soho for 20 years,” Bracey told the BBC last year.
Bracey got his first opportunity to move away from selling sex when the art director for the film Mona Lisa (1986) saw him putting up a sex shop sign and asked him to do the neon for the film, which is set in the Soho underworld. This led on to commissions for Superman III, whose Oscar winning set director Peter Young introduced him to Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton. His neon artworks appeared alongside Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut, Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Jack Nicholson in Batman. Other credits included Blade Runner, Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale, Dark Knight, and Byzantium.
A visit to a Bruce Nauman exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 1997, opened Bracey’s eyes to the artistic possibilities of neon tubing. He ghost-created Martin Creed’s white neon sign The Whole World + The Work = The Whole World, that lit up the front of Tate Britain in 2000 and, ith David LaChapelle he created Vegas Supernova, a set of pole-dancing and plastic surgery-themed window displays at Selfridges in 2005.