Neon Art Sculptures

Probably you think of the “Eat at Joe’s” blinking diner sign when you hear the term “neon.”   Neon art is typically nothing like that, but rather utilizes the technical possibilities of ionized gases and glowing phosphors to provide an expression of art, emotion, and aesthetics.

What is neon?

Neon, along with Argon, Xenon, Helium, and Krypton, are inert elements that are in a gaseous state at normal temperatures and pressures.  Inert means that, except in special laboratory contexts, they do not combine or react with anything, and are thus safe, odorless, and permanent. All are present in the air we breathe to varying degrees— Argon is the most plentiful, and is used in both incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs; Xenon is used in camera strobe flash units. “Neon Art” is a misnomer, since electronic glass sculptures can also employ Argon, Krypton, or Xenon gas (or mixtures) to light them.

In 1910, Frenchman Georges Claude devised long-lived electrodes that finally allowed gas tubes to be a viable light (and sign) source.  The first neon sign was sold to a French barber in 1912.  Neon signs began appearing in the U.S. as word spread and licenses were granted for fabrication rights. Neon art (as well as signs) is really the merging of glass tube bending (and some times glass blowing) with the technological possibilities of the various components involved: color, shape, sizes, and topology of the glass, inert gas(es) filling the glass, phosphors (if any) and how they are applied (solid, dry blown, liquid application), and high-voltage power supply selected (with a myriad of special effects to select from).

What’s different about the works in this exhibit?

This collection displays a wide range of treatments and techniques, from simple linear two-ended glass tube designs, to multi-faceted and topologically complex pieces.  Of particular note is the usage of dry-blown and liquid-applied phosphors.  So-called rare earth phosphors (as used in color TV screens) have been enhanced and blended over the last decade to provide an incredible palette for the artist to select from.  The blown phosphors provide a nebula-like wisp of sand-textured glow with an occasional skidding comet-tail effect, visible at close range.  If the glass has swirls or bends, the colors adhere in interesting streams and patterns. The phosphors applied in liquid form can result in crisp stripes or splattered splotches¾  if applied before the glass is bent or twisted, the colors follow the glass; if applied after the glass is formed, the colors can trickle through the tube like water in a stream or rivulet.

Some of these pieces depart from the “traditional” usage of a two-ended tube’s linear configuration where there is an electrode providing power at each end of the tube.  By using high-frequency, electronic power supplies (rather than the original ballast transformer), it’s possible to apply power only to one end, and the gas ionizes because of a capacitive effect to the atmosphere or to a human’s touch (don’t worry, you won’t get shocked touching the glass, just don’t touch any bare wires!).  Thus the glass can emerge into free space, and have several branches or spokes.   Yet, on the other end of the one-ended (one-electrode) technique, is the multi-electrodes approach:  Quadropus has four to allow it to have seamless legs.  Also note the usage of 3-D and space.  And some of the transformers provide an effect called bubbles which are standing waves of ionized gas that dance around to provide movement and flow to the works.

How can Neon Art be used?

Neon sculptures can be designed for and placed almost anywhere inside or outside in the setting of a home, gallery, business, or a public space— no place is too unusual for this radiant art form— ceilings, corners, windows, walls, suspended mobiles, as well as where you would place a painting or a table- or shelf-top sculpture.  Neon art can make a statement on its own or be used in a sculpture collage with other objects or artwork.  Neon can also serve functional purposes:

·         Architectural emphasis

·         Accent lighting

·         Functional indications (separators, directions) subtle-without being explicit

·         Bathroom art or lighting (nice especially with mirrors), bedroom, entry-way soft lighting(wall/ceiling)

·         Night lights (mounted anywhere)

·         Special lighting purposes (tight spaces, aisle/mushroom, music rack, under-counter, soffit, podium, background soft lighting)




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