Interview with Marcus Bracey of God’s Own Junkyard
marcus bracey of gods own junkyard chats stanley kubrick, soho and bringing Four Generations of electrifying neon talent back to where it all first began
Over the past 6 decades light impresario and neon artist Chris Bracey made the world around us electric. His artistic output and electrifying portfolio is wildly adored and remarkable to say the least. The appearance of his work lengthy. The deep pink buzz which lit the streets of Soho his own personal signature.
But a man is only as good as the company he keeps, and for Chris Bracey that company was always his beautifully talented family who worked closely alongside him. Building the family business at Gods Own Junkyard, and bringing his pieces to life.
A year on since his passing, his presence is still acutely felt. But the show must go on, and no one would have wanted that more than Chris. For the first time ever, four generations of Bracey neon makers have come together in an group exhibition. Showcasing previously unseen and restored work of Chris’s and also new works of their own.
I met with Marcus Bracey at GOJY ahead of the opening at Lights of Soho to chat about the show, having a curry with Stanley Kubrick and Soho back in the day.
A real deal artist and a major part of one of the hardest working families I know. As we begin the interview and Marcus excitedly talks me through his most treasured pieces, I can’t help but notice that same spark his father and the rest of the Bracey’s have. The one that let’s you know despite all the Soho stories and glitzy collaborations, it’s always been more about the passion for the craft and plugging in the finished product; than it ever will be about seeing their own name up in lights! x
For the new show at Lights of Soho you’re showing a lot of the great older pieces and revamped neons. But you’ve also designed some incredible new pieces….
MARCUS BRACEY: Yeah I did. My pieces for the show are inspired by greed. I’ve done this one neon set inside an old television set which is totally wild. It has the words ‘Money for Nothing’ with the words “Chicks for free” flashing on and off. I’ve got another one which says “More is Never Enough” I mean it’s totally over the top. It’s the definition of excess and greed. I’ve got $100 US dollar bills in there as the background, and a giant Rolex face for the neon O. Then I’ve added stones like broken diamonds, and a giant gold leaf frame.
Your daughter has some pieces in the show as well. What has it been like, watching her join the family and come into the industry?
From a really young age Amber would sit with my dad Chris and draw, she would be more interested in drawing than watching TV! I am really proud of her and sure she has a great future in whatever she decides to do – she has her own style and ideas and is a perfectionist just like me and my dad, ha!
What’s your favourite piece from the show?
My favourite piece is ‘More Is Never Enough’ – kind of about me – I’m a go getter, always hungry for more!
How does it feel being back in Soho? Having the whole family back in Soho where it all began.
I know my dad would have been very proud, he loved Soho and you know Soho is part of our families DNA , it’s has such good memories for me. My granddad Dick Bracey started out in Soho with my dad making signs like the Bar Italia sign and the recently relit Raymond Revue Sign. After that my dad started making the signs for some of the clubs. The look and the style totally took off and soon everyone wanted his signs for their clubs. He was actually responsible for naming a lot of the clubs. Clubs like the Boulevard Club, French Pussycat, Dreaming Lips, Harmony Time and many more.
What’s some of your earliest Soho memories?
I was down in Soho working there with my dad all the time. Early in the morning you know. Changing bulbs, putting up new signs at the clubs, collecting money and things. I remember this one time as a boy, him sending me in to one of the bars, and all the girls were absolutely starkers in there!!!! ha! I’m pretty sure I ran out blushing! Ha!! That’s Soho for you right?!
Speaking of the Raymond Revue sign which has just been relit outside Madame Jojo’s. What’s the history of behind that?
My granddad built the sign in 1958 for Paul Raymond then my dad up kept it through the 70’s with his dad! Then in 2014 I took it down and spent 4 months rebuilding it like for like – just like the original!
Knowing your dad and how passionate and hard working you are as well, I’m nearly positive you guys never say no to a project! What’s been the craziest thing or the most wild neon you’ve been asked to make?
Working with David La Chapelle in 2005, we turned Selfridges into Vegas Central. It was the sleazy side of Vegas – it was crazy!!
You’ve had a long running relationship with Selfridges as well and just did this incredibly massive commission?
Yeah, we did their entire storefront worth of windows. Over a kilometre of neon! It’s always an incredible experience working with Selfridges creative team. They wanted this very particular white, and I wound up getting every tube that was available in England!!! It looks amazing tho, the neon is just incredible. We have some other really big, cool projects coming up with them in the new year, but I can’t give too much away on that just yet!
You’ve made neons for some incredible people and on some ridiculously iconic films such as Batman, Judge Dredd, Eyes Wide Shut, Iron Man. What would be a dream film or artist who you would love to have worked on or that you would like to collaborate with and be a part of now?
Ah theres so many, I would love to create or work on another Blade Runner Film, downtown Mega City type. Just what we do!
I know working with Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut was a big one for your dad and you guys as well right?
Yeah it was wild. I was only about 20 or so, and I remember one night after filming my dad, and Stanley Kubrick and I all sat on the lighting stage, and ate a curry. Looking back it’s crazy really?! ha. But he was really cool. He really needed someone who could drive the taxi in that one scene with Tom Cruise and somehow it came about that I could drive a black cab so he wound up putting me in the film!!! It was hard work that scene as well, because it all had to be filmed backwards so we had to flip the whole set!
Do you have particular artists who inspire your work, or who you look up too?
Probably Andy warhol or Bruce Norman. Then of course you have people like Tracey Emin who is amazing and so daring and has been pretty cool supporting stuff we do here, and stuff my dad did.
Walking around GOJY you have so many pieces. I’ve been following your stuff for 7 years and still always notice new pieces everytime I’m here. Is it possible to have a piece that stands out as a favourite for you?
The Brewmaster Sign, it used to stand proud above The Brewmaster Pub in Charing Cross Road. I really want to get that own relit and up again.
Your constantly restoring a lot of them, which one’s given you the most trouble?
Ha! Probably that Raymond Revue sign…. I am constantly there – such a technical sign!
I’m sure a lot of them hold really great memories as well. Is it tough letting some of them go?
Yeah, it is. Not everything is for sale, some hold special memories that I would never let go.
Is there a particular piece you’ve found or restored that’s been more exciting or special to you than others?
Taking something down my granddad put up and restoring it is really special. The BSA motor cylce sign. This was put up by granddad and I took it down 25 years ago – we have it hanging in Gods now.
You guys are such an amazing team! GOJY is truly a family business to the very core! You have your daughter, your mother, your brother, how in the hell do you guys all get along?!
Ha! Everyone brings something different to the table so that helps. But it’s not always easy you know! ha! We’re all working together all of the time, in the same workshop, so we have our moments! But we do a pretty good job…. A lot of patience I guess! haha