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104 DECORATIVE & DESIGN / LIGHT ART / PROFILE


Photograph: Victoria Lucas


RICHARD WILLIAM design file


WHEATER


Since St Valentine’s day 2011, red neon has burnt bright above a small workshop in the industrial backstreets of Wakefield in the north of England. Each month, passengers gazing out of their train windows have been treated to new proclamation of love: snippets of famous love songs written out in glowing two-foot high capitals. The piece, 12 months of Neon Love, is a collaboration by artists Richard William Wheater and Victoria Lucas. “We wanted to affect people who don’t go to galleries,” says Wheater. “You’ve got to be careful with public art; people often get angry with it, but I think this piece really connected with the majority of the general public. We get emails all the time from people saying it’s brightened up their journey and it’s great; art shouldn’t just be in galleries, it shouldn’t just be for a high brow informed middle class.” On February 14th this year, the project comes to an end as the twelfth and final message – ‘No more I love yous...’ – is


Riviving a love for neon through art, education and performance.


turned off. It’s passing will leave many fans broken hearted, but this success did not come without its challenges. The local authority initially refused to grant planning permission, threatening to end the project just three months in to its run. This all changed when a huge swell of public sup- port - including messages from the likes of former Pulp front man and culture-champi- on Jarvis Cocker – helped ensure the council saw sense.


This initial reticence is telling of the chal- lenges that come with working in a medium with such a loaded cultural identity. “Neon is just a slang term to describe what is really just cold cathode lighting; interior designers know this, architects know this, but perhaps local authorities don’t,” says Wheater. “So when they get a planning ap- plication saying someone wants to use neon - and they’ve bravely used that ‘n ‘word, neon, to describe what they want - then it often gets turned down because of these associations that have become so embedded


in our culture: discos, strip joints, take- aways; the seedier side of urban life.” For Wheater, neon is so much more. “In the words of Tracy Emin ‘Neon makes you feel good’ and it kind-of does – every- body, all demographics, know what neon light looks like and they tend to stare at it more than once - it just has this real al- lure.” Wheater’s first introduction to neon came during an exchange programme that saw him swop Edinburgh College of Art for a semester at Alfred University in New York. “I loved the idea of being able to create your own light and the more I learnt about it, the more appealing it became: the fact it was 100 per cent recyclable, the fact it was energy efficient... And it’s so simple – you’re just exciting this inert noble gas that’s in the air we breath. There’s some- thing romantic about that.” In 2010 Wheater founded the Neon Work- shop working alongside Julia Bickerstaff, whose 26 years of commercial experience


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