Monday, June 13, 2011

Nostalgia in Neon

El Tavern - Vacancy IV (2010) by Terry Thompson

About a month ago, I saw an exhibit of Terry Thompson's signage paintings at the George Billis Gallery in Culver City. The show was entitled "Sign of Life". I thought that was a strange name, given the aged and deteriorating appearance of the subjects. I was thinking "Memento Mori" or even "Et in Arcadia Ego" would be a more fitting title.

But Thompson's idea is that these signs are survivors. While their fellows from the late '40s to the early '60s have fallen to real estate redevelopment, these signs have persevered. The rust and wear are badges of endurance. Yes, they are from Googie era, but, in spite of the odds, they still exist. They are still part of "Now".

Canyon City Liquor (2010) by Terry Thompson

So, I spent a few weeks considering the matter. Then I returned to the gallery to reassess the paintings. Upon review, I can see his point.

First, the compositions are not quiet works. Unlike the classic memento mori archetype, these aesthetic statements are not concluded upon the canvas. Thompson uses a dynamic structure that makes the eye continuously play across the image. Often the image is cropped in a manner that implies activity and existence off the screen.

Lark Motel (2011) by Terry Thompson

Second, the color and light of these painting is uplifting. The rich detail give the images a sense of physical reality. These are not memories of a bygone era, but living testaments to perseverance over time. These are signs of the Day, not ghosts of the Night. That's an important distinction because these are neon signs, which are typically depicted in scenes of urban nightscapes. Thompson upends the conventional expectations.

So, I think he presents a strong but subtle statement in this show. There's a preservationist sense of pride to be found in these painting.

I really liked these painting, but my favorite work from Thompson wasn't at the show. Here it is:

The Hat (2009) by Terry Thompson

Yum!!! Possibly the best pastrami in the Los Angeles area. Here's a photo that I took a couple weeks ago while thinking about "Signs of Life".


And here's a vid of some neon signs at night:

Here's a link to the George Billis Gallery website.

Here's a link to Terry Thompson's website.

Here's the Googie Architecture Wikipedia page.

And here's a link to The Hat's website.


No comments:

Post a Comment