Walthamstow has changed a lot since I lived there in 2010. You could put it down to creeping gentrification, but I don’t think that would be fair. The fact that this East London town hides arguably London’s best art installation – a blasphemous explosion of neon signs in an unassuming industrial estate – shows it retains an underlying current of grit and creativity.
Gods Own Junkyard* is basically a warehouse filled with neon signs and sculptures. It was created by artist and designer Chris Bracey to house his portfolio: shop signage, contemporary sculpture, and backdrops for films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Since Bracey died in 2014, his sons Marcus, Matthew and Max have continued to run Gods Own Junkyard as a gallery, shop and cafe.
We began our day with a delicious brunch of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toast (sourdough, naturally) at Eat 17: a hip restaurant in Walthamstow Village renowned for inventing ‘bacon jam’. From there it was just a short walk past delis, artisan coffee shops and pretty terraced houses to reach Ravenswood Industrial Estate. The area’s silence and emptiness was a little deterring until we spotted the door to God’s Own Junkyard.
Stepping inside, the effusion of bright multi-coloured lights assaults your vision in the most wonderful way. Layer upon layer of neon hangs from the ceiling and rises from the floor. I’d never seen so much neon all in one place, not even in Vegas.
But it’s not just bright lights – there’s artistry aplenty here, not only in the signs themselves but in the way they’re arranged to complement and contrast against each other.
The signs cover a great variety of themes, with religion, pop culture, porn, consumerism and existential dread all brought together in a spectacular shambles. My favourite pieces included a shed containing a gun-toting Jesus surrounded by glowing crosses, and a TARDIS containing a multi-layered mirror threaded with rainbow-coloured lights – this also functioned as a toilet!
Even more neon
Once we’d taken in all of Gods Own Junkyard we took the tube to Soho, where art gallery and private member’s bar Lights of Soho was holding its own exhibition of Bracey’s work. We gladly took the opportunity to see more neon masterpieces, although with price tags spiralling into the thousands we couldn’t hope to buy any of them! We came away from both galleries feeling that, beyond a doubt, their pieces were no less art than those in the National Gallery or the Tate – and a lot more fun!
(Yep, that’s me embracing my inner devil!)
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton; all original artwork pictured (c) Chris Bracey / Gods Own Junkyard.
* apostrophe intentionally omitted as this is how the name appears on the official website.