1) When was the first time you knew neon and neon art was your calling?
I can define the moment quite easily to be honest, it was the year I first started in the neon industry (which was 1987) and I came across a book titled ‘NEON LOVERS GLOW IN THE DARK’ by Lili Lakich. This book was indeed the defining moment for me because it was then I realized that neon could be used as a medium for art and not just as an advertising tool. My creative mind from then on was alight with ideas and I was confident and knew that in my heart of hearts I had the aptitude of mastering the art of neon glassblowing and was very enthusiastic about learning as much as I could from whoever and whatever source possible. I spent many many years honing my skills eagerly awaiting the moment I could couple the acquired expertise with my natural artistic flare. My first realisation of something artistic was a neon light sculpture of a full size table & chair.
2) Your reputation internationally leads to lots of work/collectors that you keep classified. Who has been the most interesting celebrity you have met through your artwork?
I like the word ‘classified’ it makes me sound like some sort of ‘art-secret agent’….lol! No joking aside it’s just about being discreet and respecting people’s privacy really, it’s as simple as that. I have done (and still do) lots of work with London’s super rich community, wether they live here in the UK or just have property/homes here, many of them have neon in their art collections and it’s of the utmost importance to them that they can deal with someone that they can wholeheartedly trust. I am also asked to sculpt intimate writings or messages of a personal nature in neon lights too, so the trust and privacy element must be there, it’s paramount to the partnership of myself and client. They also give me access to their amazing homes, so I get a privileged look into their elite lifestyle, In some cases I am asked to sign NDA’s (non-disclosure agreement) as some of them are so well protected that they have to be really confident that what they share with me or allow me to see goes no further. Alot of the time you don’t actually get to meet the main people themselves as you are dealing with their PA’s or entourage or house/estate staff. I have been very lucky to do work for royalty (unfortunately not our royals though) famous and public eye people, political and world business leaders and dealt with some of the wealthiest families on the planet. I am due in a couple of weeks to meet an ex Russian Oligarch who is flying over (in his own plane from the USA ‘as you do’….lol!) and he is bringing me some American neon art that I am preparing for correct UK wiring spec to go into one of his London homes.
In answer to the latter part of your question…I would say that meeting one of my musical heroes ‘Bryan Ferry’ at the beginning of this year was the most interesting celebrity I have met through my art. I was invited down to meet Bryan (who is a huge art lover and indeed an avid art collector) at his London based studio. I had previously re-created Bryan’s first Roxy Music album cover for him in soft pink neon lights which hangs pride of place in his studio, so I also got the chance to see that in position too. He was so generous with his time and so interesting to talk to. I went loaded with gifts, like some big neon santa.…lol! I gave him one of my new Courty Neon Art prints (THE 27 CLUB – Sex, Drugs, Rock n Roll) and I had also read somewhere that Gin was his favourite drink, so I bought him some local East London, sloe berry infused Gin too. He was brilliant and signed his new book for me which contained a beautiful retro white vinyl album inside it. We talked art, neon, music and gin, he was an absolute gentleman, a really cool guy. He gave me a personal tour of his studio that he’d built over time and you could tell he was very proud of it. I had a surreal moment when we was together in the recording part of the studio (just me and him) microphone hanging down, engineers through the window (the full bit…lol) and he began to tell me that Prince had been in there two weeks prior to this, standing right where I was now, singing and recording and taking advantage of Bryan’s old school mixing desk that he has.
I almost had to pinch myself, here I was standing there with one of my heroes telling me about another one of my all-time heroes, it was truly fantastic. That moment so poignant for me now of course because of Prince very sadly passing away a few months after.
3) Your neon works are known for many things, one of which is their ambitious nature. What is the most difficult project you have worked on?
I’m not sure I could answer that with one particular project as different projects create various difficulties to overcome. In terms of difficulty of glassblowing, it would have to be a 12ft (ceiling hung) spiral sculpture I made from 20mm diameter pink neon and stainless steel for the London home of ‘The Sainsbury Family’. In terms of sheer size it would be me being part of the 3 man neon team (headed by the late Chris Bracey) that worked for 10months neon glassblowing in extremely hot temperatures on location in the Dominican Republic to create over 80 neon signs for the film set of ‘Havana’ starring Robert Redford. It was just before the CGI film era started and it took over 50 craftsmen to build a quarter mile long full size replica of Cuba’s capital with Casinos, Hotels, Nightclubs and Bars, it was gigantic and truly epic and at the time of production was the biggest single set build in contemporary cinema history. In terms of neon mounting difficulty there are two that spring to mind, the first being a Guilloche shape design that ‘The Halcyon Gallery’ in London asked me to explore wether it was possible to create a sculpture of it from neon lights (it wasn’t possible by using standard neon fabrication techniques) but I devised a way that it could be done by layering 15 levels of interlocking neon to achieve the desired effect, I ended up making 3 of them. The other most difficult neon mounting challenge I’ve had was when I made the 32ft x 3ft x 1ft neon sculpture of ‘The Brownian Motion Theory’ with Berlin based artist Luciano Foglia. Every single tube support on that neon sculpture had to be handmade. Lastly, in terms of electrical wiring difficulty it would be a nightclub neon installation I made with just over 160 neon sections in it which also had 160 separate transformers housed in the roof that were all computer controlled and wired to flash, sequence and dim via a showcad programme.
4) If you could let the public know one thing about neon, what would it be?
Very simply that it is a fragile handmade item that’s not produced by a machine and I strongly believe that it’s a true artform within itself in how it’s made. I’m very passionate about it (have you noticed…lol!) It utilises Art, craft, chemistry, physics, noble gases, electricity and engineering….all merged together in fragile glass tubes, it’s a beautiful thing.
I see lots of so called artists nowadays that show no respect to this side of things and gloss over it and even pretend that they are making it to add validity to their work and it annoys me immensely. I strongly believe a ‘true neon artist’ can only be the one who can make it and create his or her own art from it. Let’s be honest, da Vinci never asked the fella down the road to paint Mona for him did he? I fully understand the argument of an artist not possibly being able to learn in a lifetime every discipline needed to work with every different material or medium that they want in their body of work, I get that! Don’t get me wrong either….some of what I see done out there where someone has outsourced the neon work, I do like very much, especially the large scale neon works by big named artists that have the funds to do extravagant works, some are wonderful and that all helps to drive neon art forward and gain some recognition, so I definitely agree it has a place at the table. It’s just!.…man oh man!….(big sigh!) for someone like me who has dedicated his working life to it thus far….and the bullshit I have seen of late, and if you could read what I am reading and see what I am seeing on a weekly basis and hear what is claimed about ‘neon art’ by various individuals and organisations it’s nothing short of an absolute fucking joke! (please excuse my French)….anyway-don’t get me started!….rant over!….lol!
5) Having achieved so much over a long career, what would be your biggest ambitions over the coming years?
My main focus at present is to make my art available at all levels financially. By its very nature of being handmade from costly materials my Neon Originals are very expensive to buy and are many thousands of pounds, they are also quite large in physical size too often requiring big premises for displaying them. So I am very aware that they are only affordable/suitable to a small minority of art lovers and if I am honest, I really don’t want my art to be viewed just as an elite purchase, available to only a wealthy few. So I am constantly developing my neon art adaptations using ‘glow in the dark’ inks and diamond dust crystals on my hand pulled screen prints. I am also constantly refining the wonderful ways in how my neon art is being digitally captured (just like a master painting is done) then computer enhanced and beautifully reproduced as a framed print format which are available to purchase at a starting cost of only a few hundred pounds.
My ambition basically is to have ‘Courty Neon Art’ in many formats at all prices and available to everyone and every wallet size up and down the country in the UK and even abroad. This is why I value my relationship with my fab publishers (Wishbone Publishing) so much as they are working very hard with me and together we are making great strides in achieving this. I am what I am!….a proper English working class boy! Who.…don’t get me wrong is as proud as punch to have my art hanging in some fabulous mansion in Knightsbridge, but I am equally as proud (because of where I’m from) to have my art hanging on a wall in some small flat in downtown suburbia….as appy as bleedin Larry as it happens! (#ART4ALL)
6) You are currently working on a new collection, can you give us some more info on it?
Yes I am working on a new collection at the moment….it’s called ‘The LIFE series’ by COURTY. They are going to be small framed neon art prints that I am producing the same physical size as a vinyl record album cover as they all resemble a record sleeve type design. The concept of the collection pays homage to stars that have passed on. I display visually the day of their passing and depict it as a prisoner number (not in a morbid or dis-tasteful way) but meant in a life celebratory way and as a metaphor that these people, ‘our heroes’ have reached such greatness in their life that they never really leave us, becoming eternally captured within the media lights to live a kind of ‘Electric Immortality’….I simply word this as: ‘Sentenced to Live Forever’. I show their faces staring straight at us but behind glowing electric neon prison bars that emit beautiful vibrant colours that all are loosely related to the people themselves.…ie: Prince is shown behind glowing purple neon prison bars and Bob Marley is behind glowing red, yellow and green (rasta colour) neon prison bars, and so on….they look pretty damn cool as it happens! I am very pleased with how they are coming out, can’t wait to show you the finished pieces.