When most people picture neon signs, they think of payday loans, seedy motels, and the alluring naughtiness of strip clubs. But it’s precisely this connotation that artist Romily Alice seeks to reclaim through her practice as a neon light artist. “We kind of think of neon as a little bit shady,” she tells Creators. “But I feel like neon offers a lot more room to explore.”
Alice, who is the former lead singer in the now-defunct grunge band Japanese Voyeurs, is no stranger to reversing stereotypes. Her previous series Neon Portraits rendered female nudes in fluorescents, celebrating the imperfections of real women’s bodies. In her neon works, Alice deconstructs the hyper-sexualization of the female form, presenting an alternative to the images found throughout mainstream media. But it’s the process behind creating neon art that initially drew her to the relatively unexplored medium.
“You start with these long glass rods, heat them under a super hot flame, and bend them into the shapes that you want,” Alice explains. “Then, you attach these electrodes and extract all the air out, inserting the natural, rare gases that make it glow. It’s all very fire, alchemy, periodic table, and witchy. I think it’s awesome.”
Most light artists who work with the medium commission an experienced neon bender to finish their pieces. There are still plenty of neon benders practicing the craft in the UK, be it for signs or art pieces. Sealed in an electrified glass tube, different gases create different colors: helium produces an orange-red glow, whereas mercury vapor turns light blue. Coating the tube itself also creates a completely new hue, opening up the possibilities to the entire color spectrum.
“[Neon] feels quite fresh even though it’s over a hundred years old,” says Alice. “I think we tend to think of neon in terms of text-based work, and I obviously use it in a more figurative way.”
Currently completing her BA in Fine Art, Alice will be exhibited in a group show of emerging female artists at London’s The Square Gallery. Opening May 12, HerOiNe: The Future is Pink features artists who reimagine gender roles and contemporary concepts of femininity through their work.
“A lot of what I end up making is determined by the research that I do,” says Alice. “I’m really interested in women’s sexuality, their sexual agency, queer theory, and gender. I’ve recently been looking at the idea of the female body and what’s carried with that.”
A proliferation of over-sexualized images of women has desensitized audiences, normalizing objectification of the female form. The habit creates unrealistic standards of beauty, while at the same time contributing to the stigma surrounding female sexual pleasure. Alice wants to add to this dialogue.
“My hope is that the work functions on different levels,” says Alice. “So if someone wants to look at it and think there’s a cool female body made out of neon, that’s great. But if someone is interested in the kind of questions that I’m asking, then I hope that there’s a depth that people can access.”