Neon is clearly having a moment. You can thank, in part, La La Land, a film that washes Los Angeles in a cool Technicolor glow.
Beyond its seductive qualities, the artistry and skill required to create neon works—the bending of tubes by hand into sinuous letters and forms—are also experiencing a resurgent appreciation.
“I became enamored and obsessed with the way these signs are designed and handmade,” explains Tanja Tiziana, a Toronto-based photographer whose recently released book, Buzzing Lights: The Fading Neon Landscape of North America, documents vintage signs across the United States and Canada. “I was drawn to their cool designs and retro aesthetic.”
If you, too, find yourself enamored with neon, here’s a look at some ways to get turned on by the quintessential gas-and-glass combination right now. And in case you can’t get enough, we’ve also included a few ways to work the glow into your home in the slideshow.
Take a Tour of La La Land’s Iconic Neon Gems
“Throughout the film, you see classic neon signs fronting the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, and many others,” says Harry Medved, coauthor of Hollywood Escapes: The Moviegoer’s Guide to Exploring Southern California’s Great Outdoors. “The location managers who found these vintage landmarks really helped shape the look of the movie.” Of course, neon love is not new in Hollywood. “Los Angeles has always had a love affair with neon, thanks to our romance with car culture and advertisers’ attempts to stop traffic with brightly colored signage,” says Medved. In La La Land, director Damien Chazelle plays tribute to classic Hollywood landmarks like Musso and Frank and the Brown Derby in a Singin’ in the Rain style montage that dazzles the eyes with nostalgia and light.
Another neon-lit L.A. landmark featured in the film—if only
fleetingly—is in the century-old, newly hip Grand Central Market, where Ryan Gosling’s and Emma Stone’s characters, Seb and Mia, eat pupusas under the neon-blue glow of Sarita’s Pupuseria.
Visit the Neon Muzeum in Warsaw
Poland has long been famous for its graphic art, from beautiful movie posters to striking signage. The Cold War coincided with a golden age of neon, when signs lit up otherwise drab Soviet-era buildings in rebuilt Warsaw. The city’s Neon Muzeum, which boasts the biggest single collection of neon signs anywhere in Europe, is dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Poland’s Cold War–era signs by the likes of Jan Mucharski, Tadeusz Rogowski, and Jan Boguslawski. The old store and factory signs are also a treat for lovers of font design. Located in the revamped Soho Factory in Praga, Warsaw’s cool art hub, the museum has quickly become one of the city’s biggest draws.
Do It Yourself
California’s Museum of Neon Art offers a one-day immersive class that gives an overview of what it takes to make neon, as well as more intensive courses that allow you to create your own glowing gas signs or restore and preserve vintage ones.
Artist Lili Lakich’s studio in L.A. offers an eight-week intensive course, called Zero to Neon. Lakich, who has been creating neon art since the mid-’60s, explains of her passion: “It’s one of the most viscerally beautiful mediums possible. When you get in front of it, the light draws you in. It has a real moth-to-flame quality.” Her course teaches people how to design and create their owns signs and sculptures, from the preliminary drawing to the fabrication. Students have included a 17-year-old high school junior and a 74-year-old rabbi, who made neon candlesticks.
Visit the Neon Museum in Las Vegas
The Neon Museum is dedicated to collecting, restoring, and relighting the iconic neon signs that have helped shaped Las Vegas.“Neon is probably the most iconic thing that people associate with Las Vegas—it’s the skyline of the city,” a spokesperson for the museum explains. “There’s no other place like it unless you go to Japan.” The collection includes vintage hotel and casino signs that lay in the Neon Boneyard, an outdoor extension of the museum. (Fun fact: Boneyard is a term used by sign companies for the place where sign-makers go to scavenge for old parts.) Some broken tubes and rusted signs in the museum’s boneyard date back to the 1930s. There are even signs from Moulin Rouge (the first racially integrated hotel in Vegas) and the Frontier, the first Vegas venue Elvis performed in.
Watch Blade Runner (Old and New)
Ridley Scott’s original 1982 Blade Runner introduced the world to an art aesthetic known as future noir, with cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth’s neon-lit world becoming highly influential. If early teasers are any indication, Blade Runner 2049, the upcoming sequel starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford and being released later this year, is sure to be a worthy, neon-filled successor. In a similar vein, we can also look forward to the neon-noir vibes of Duncan Jones’s film Mute. His sci-fi story about a mute bartender whose girlfriend goes missing in Berlin will be out later this year on Netflix and promises to feature plenty of dazzling neon.
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