Despite the hype and glamour of London, visitors are often too busy floundering along the tube networks to truly experience the city. As you travel further away from the focal areas of the city, the unremarkable gray streets with the looming grey clouds, has a way of dampening the most jovial of moods. Imagine your surprise, when you drag your ass to the northeastern fringes of London in search of joy, and end up finding the brightest shine of all times.
Located within the drab surronding of Walthamstow, God’s Own Junkyard is a kaleidoscopic maze of handmade neon signs that blazes forth in an old industrial estate similar to the blatant display of Vegas. Drab and Vegas, such a contradiction right?! As a third-generation family heirloom, the place is multi-faceted to say the least – a free art gallery, Instagrammer hotspot, a dealer and recycler of signages, prop shop for film and fashion shoots, and a lucrative customer of worth £3,000 per month for the local power supply unit. And as a visitor what you can do? Just stand back (literally!), enjoy the “power” trip, and get a kick out of it!
The public collection comprises of 1000 neon artifacts which includes thousands of signs, props, and figures, all displayed within a single warehouse space. It is said that the collection at God’s own junkyard, or GOJY is one of the largest collections of neon signs in Europe, though the public display in this museum/art cafe barely covers 10% of the Bracey family collection! Every form of disreputable fun is represented in bright light, stacked from the floor or hung from the ceiling, peeking naughtily at you and tempting you to smirk on the innuendos! In fact, among the collection are dozens of other commissions, with some of the noteworthy ones being the a neon British flag from a Kate Moss Rimmel ad, and a giant red X from Selfridges’ window display, a collaboration with photographer David LaChapelle.
Although Chris Bracey is known as the ‘Neon Man’ behind Gods Own Junkyard, the actual humble beginning of the set-up started with his father Richard or Dick Bracey, a Welsh coal miner from Monmouthshire. Having worked in darkness for so long, he decided to set up his own company ‘Electro Signs’ in 1952, after moving to London. Along with lighting up the city of London, his signs were used all over the South-East of England for funfairs, cafés, and strip clubs.
His son Chris Bracey, the Neon Man, started out as a graphic designer in the 70s, before taking over his fathers business of making signs for Soho’s strip bars and brothels.
“….99% of every sex establishment in Soho for 20 years”.Chris Bracey, in an interview with BBC
Inspired by religion, eroticism, lyricism, music, and naturally, the concept of heaven and hell, Bracey developed a highly distinctive neon language. He embraced the skills learnt from his father and added his own blend of extra flair, a more personal touch. His talent was rightfully observed by Hollywood during his big break when meeting the director of Mona Lisa, Neil Patrick Jordan. Post the movie, he made a name in Hollywood:
He has worked closely with some of cinema’s finest talents including Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton, transforming a set into their vision. Kubrick commissioned Bracey to redo a London Street and studio into Greenwich Village in New York, while he created pieces for recent movie, World War Z that transformed Glasgow into 50’s America. He created props for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dark Shadows, Casino Royale and many more besides.Anna Bang, excerpts from her interview with the ‘Neon Man’
Despite being a perfectionist, he never made more than 3 copies of anything and didn’t want to sell his work because he loved what he created. No wonder he established his own neon museum in 1978! Interestingly, he named it after ‘God’s Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioration of America’s Landscape’, a book by Peter Blake that campaigns against capitalism.
Interesting read – A candid with Chris Bracey
Sadly, the “Master of Glow” passed away in 2014 from prostate cancer. But, he left behind the amazing legacy of this neon collection, along with his craft. The business continues to be a roaring multi-million-pound business, that continues being in the limelight through the joint effort of his sons Matthew and Marcus Bracey, who are continuing the family tradition of making and providing neon signs for Hollywood!
“Neon went out of fashion in the ’80s and ’90s because of LEDs. They took LEDs as far as they could. Neon has more soul and passion. It’s strangely addictive; people believe it has a spirit, a soul that warms you.”Marcus Bracey, in an interview with Buzzfeed
Throughout the years this warehouse has been featured in Vogue, acted as sets for fashion kingpins like Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, and also played a role in Hollywood movies.
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