Chris Bracey is the man behind God’s Own Junkyard – the amazing and wondrous collection of neon art works, light sculptures and reworked salvaged props in Walthamstow, pieces that have been used in films such as Blade Runner, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mona Lisa, Eyes Wide Shut and who works with film directors such as Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick. Bracey’s work also sells to private collectors such as Kate Moss, Damien Hirst, Jude Law, Kate Moss, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Richard Curtis, Ray Winstone, Tim Burton and Vivienne Westwood.
A humble and clearly very creative person he has not let the fame go to his head but instead comes across as both engaging and still excited by the sheer beauty of this world we live in.
Volt Café: God’s Own Junkyard – how did you come up with this evocative name?
Chris Bracey: The name came from the American architect Peter Blake, who wrote a book in 1964 called God’s Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioration of America’s Landscape. Blake thought the many drive-in fast food places and cinemas had turned America from God’s own country to God’s own junkyard.
VC: You touch on religious themes in your work and also make frequent references to ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’. Why?
CB: As a child I was left handed and wrote backwards mirror writing. I went to a Catholic school where the nuns thought I was the antichrist because of this. Add to that that my birthday falls on Christmas Day and all fire and brimstone were let loose. I couldn’t learn the alphabet – back then dyslexia wasn’t recognised so I had a bad time of it at school.
VC: How did you learn the neon craft?
CB: My dad taught me. I started pottering about in his workshop when I was 13, although I considered neon to be merely for commercial use. It wasn’t till I was 16 and I saw Bruce Nauman at Hayward Gallery that I realised its potential. That neon could be art as well. My dad was originally a coal miner, hated the dark and wanted to be in the light. He went to London and he discovered neon. He wasn’t an artist, my mum was a fine artist, always painting and she taught me how to paint with oils. I loved Andy Warhol’s work and Lichtenstein. I sort of followed in Warhol’s foot steps, the commercial work and the window dressing, I’m always surprised he never worked in neon.
VC: What inspires you on a daily basis?
CB: Fashion magazines. I’m inspired by the colours and textures. My mum dealt in vintage when I was a kid and I loved all the old Hollywood magazines. I wasn’t born in America but it had a massive influence on me. My favourite film is Sunset Boulevard. I remember going to the cinema as a child and how exciting it was, the large screen and immersing yourself in the colours. My original paintings were based around movies. When I was 11, I’d often walk around Heal’s and look at the furniture. Colours always made a huge impact – I remember seeing a set of orange enamel cookware in a dusty shop in Walthamstow and going back again and again to marvel at the colour. It was the first time I’d seen that colour used on pans, it was so strong and glowing. Music is also a huge inspiration. I also keep a scrapbook of bits and pieces I’ve torn from magazines. I’ll look at those and I’ll do drawings before I start a new piece.
VC: You now employ 16 assistants. What are your criteria for working with you? Which kind of skills sets do your workers generally come with?
CB: One’s a former stylist, another had a dad who had a neon sign factory. I’d say a desire to work with me; people I feel are on my wavelength.
VC: Your family has had three generations of Braceys working at the old factory, yet you recently had to leave?
CB: Yes I’m very sad that the original factory had to be flattened. We were just pushed out. They offered me a really bad swap in the middle of nowhere, which I didn’t want to take.
VC: So how did the new space come about?
CB: We were looking desperately. The council was rubbish. They just want to knock things down and build blocks of flats. They’re just chasing property developers. I’m a disposable commodity. In the end we found an old Victorian factory. Around the same time Selfridges felt sorry for us and gave us a pop-up shop within their shop, which has been really successful.
VC: The new space is in Walthamstow just like the old factory. How do you see Walthamstow these days – do you fear it will become the next Hoxton, thanks to artists like you and Grayson Perry making it attractive to estate agents and wanna-be hipsters who perceive it as the next big thing?
CB: Yes, it used to be on the edge of nowhere and now it’s really well known. Developers are buying up everything in sight, it’s like the Klondyke now. I don’t know where all the artists are going to go to. London was always a place where people made things. Such a fantastic place. I love London; it’s like nowhere else.
Gods Own Junkyard
Ravenswood Industrial Estate
London E17 9HQ
Chris Bracey is also part of a group show at Scream Gallery, Telling Tales, which is on to 8th February 2014.
27 – 28 Eastcastle Street
London W1W 8DH
Words by Anna Bang
TagsBlade Runner, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chris Bracey, Damien Hirst, Elton John, Eyes Wide Shut, God's Own Junkyard, Jude Law, Kate moss, Lady Gaga, Mona Lisa, Ray Winstone, Richard Curtis, SCREAM, Telling Tales, Tim Burton, vivienne westwood,