‘Lights of Soho’ Curator, Hamish Jenkinson chats about opening London’s first ever neon gallery
There was a time in the 1970’s where every street in Soho was bathed in an electric pink buzz of Neon. A glow which illuminated, personified and defined the visual identity and seedy bohemian excess of the neighbourhood. Most of those Neon’s if not all, we’re probably created by artist Chris Bracey or his father.
Nowadays tho, you might be forgiven for noticing less the electric ambience and disappearing Bracey Neons, and more likely venture into one of Soho’s many popular member’s bars instead.
While the original Soho loved a Neon… lord knows, new Soho love’s a members bar! They have private bars for whiskey drinkers, beat poetry readers , media types , swanky scene setters at the legendary Soho House, dive bars… fuck Pizza Express and Jazz After Dark will probably start being members only!
Luckily for us …cultured and cool gallery owner Hamish Jenkinson has combined the best of Soho’s 2 great loves! Taken out the bullshit and created a member’s bar you’ll actually want to be a part of… and more importantly brought neon back where it belongs. Where all began, in glorious Soho. From the hands of the family who made it possible to the new generation of artists and the greatly respected who continue on the reign.
I caught up with Hamish to chat about how it all came together and what his gallery Lights of Soho has in store for the future.
Did you already have an attraction or interest in Neon when you created Lights of Soho?
HAMISH JENKINSON: The idea to open a neon art gallery really came from the area. Soho is the home of neon and I just thought it’s right that Soho should be the home of the first ever Neon art gallery. I wanted to create something that celebrates the craft. The craft of hand blown glass, and the creativity that comes with it, all whilst bringing a little light and happiness into people’s lives.
Do you have a favourite neon artist or piece?
I love Diana Chire, she’s so naughty!
Do you personally own any?
Yes, I love Neon. It’s such fun to have in the house! People always comment when they come over. At the gallery we try and cater to all tastes and budgets, so everyone can pick up something they enjoy. You’ll see work that can range in price from £50k to £500
With Neon and particularly the Bracey families work really starting out in Soho, was there a conscience decision in there to kind of bring it back where it all began?
In truth, we’d not be here celebrating Neon if it were not for the Bracey family. They’ve been played an instrumental role in the genesis of Lights of Soho. The first proper show we did in the gallery was with Chris Bracey and God’s Own Junkyard. In the current show ‘Art of Burning Man’ , we’ve got a work by his grand-daughter Amber Bracey! It’s her first work in a gallery and she’s only 16 years old, so the legacy will definitely continue long into the future.
I’m a total snob – jokes! The only way we could get a license from the council was by becoming a members’ lounge, but it’s worked out really well! By being a member’s bar we’ve been able to curate the people and the kind of vibe we want to work with the art. We’re like Soho House for creative types! We’ll have to close our membership before too long because we’ve had so many applications!
Is there a dream artist you would like to see in Lights of Soho?
Light artist Antony McCall. He does some incredible work. I’ve been huge admirer of his for years. His work is of another class.
How integral or active are you in the curation of the exhibitions when they’re being put together?
That’s my job! How lucky am I?! The current show, ‘Art of Burning Man’ was a conversation I started 5 years ago with a friend of mine when I was at the Old Vic Tunnel’s and we wanted to do a festival. I knew of NK Guy and his work in Burning Man. We kept in touch, and I when I found out about his book with Taschen I knew the timing was right to do something together. It took a bit to persuade him that Lights of Soho was the best place to launch his book, but in the end he agreed and luckily also showcased a selection of his incredible photographs on our walls!
Speaking of Old Vic Tunnel’s you actually discovered that space right?!
I used to be Artistic Director of The Old Vic Tunnels (which is now House of Vans). 5 years ago, I kicked in a door I probably shouldn’t have and walked into this incredible space. I was on my mobile walking around, exploring and I just couldn’t believe it hadn’t been found yet!
Wow! Is that when you started falling in love with art?
We started doing the very famous Punchdrunk there and loads of other performance events. But I was also working with Kevin Spacey on these huge multimillon pound charity auctions at the Old Vic theatre. It was then, that I met some of the UK’s best artists. People like Damian Hirst , Tracey Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman. I was meeting the individuals, getting to know them and discovering the art and what they were creating first hand from them directly. It was a really unique experience.
Having that background as Artistic Director at the Old Vic Tunnels, are working with all these performance, do you like you would you ever consider integrating performance art into Lights of Soho?
Ha! Anythings possible, if someone came to us with a light art performance , we’d absolutely love that! Anythings possible.
Any hints on what we can expect next?
We are taking inspiration from The Royal Academy Summer exhibition which is the largest open submission exhibition in the world, we’re going to do the same, but with Neon. Anyone can enter their work and if we like the work, it’s in the show.
Lights of Soho
35 Brewer Street, Soho
Words by Tracy Kawalik and Hamish Jenkinson
Photos by Tracy Kawalik and Lights of Soho | Brand Revoultion PR