A light artist finds exciting new ways to use neon.
Just next to the Gowanus Canal in an industrial village of Brooklyn stands the Old American Can Factory. And tucked away inside is Lite Brite Neon Studio, the go-to shop for all things neon. It's a serene space, but teeming with mementos and materials from past projects, giving a sense of appreciation for the company's success. The atmosphere has a quiet energy, amplified by founder Matt Dilling's buzzing enthusiasm for his work.
Dilling, a Washington, D.C. native, developed his skill through workshops with neon artist Craig Kraft at the Smithsonian Institution arts program and later at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was there that the beginnings of Lite Brite Neon Studio were established, pulled together with discarded equipment from M.I.T. (He still uses a mid-1970s vacuum pump and bombarding transformer found there.) In 1999, Dilling moved to Brooklyn where his partner, co-designing a fashion show for Diane von Furstenberg, recommended Dilling assist with the lighting. Dilling found it fun and interesting, and the job paved the way for many others of its kind.
At 26, Dilling has made a booming career out of his fascination with electricity. His first job with neon was doing repairs for a porn shop. But now, with Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein, Burberry, and Bergdorf Goodman knocking down his door for custom displays, Lite Brite Neon Studio's client list reads like a who's who of upscale shopping.
'Fashion,' he says, 'is very good for what I'm interested in because it allows me to work with neon in a context that's not necessarily ironic, but also not necessarily the specific meaning attached to neon.' To Dilling neon is just 'a very beautiful and excellent utilitarian form of light,' but he doesn't deny the often overwhelming reactions that passers-by have to his window displays. 'The cultural vocabulary is so strong that people have this giant stumbling block when they approach neon.'
Artists that Dilling has worked with, like Keith Sonnier and Glen Ligon, bridge this gap, as does the company's recent foray into the consumer market. The growing product line already includes a candelabra, floor lamp, chandelier, and wall sconce. As someone who finds inspiration in the transitional nature of design, Dilling has certainly embodied the spirit of evolution in his work. The chandelier of the past, initially designed to provide multiple points of light, is now neon art and, in its entirety, a complete point of light-something that he takes great delight in.
And it's not only the company's product line that transcends the conventional applications of neon. Plans are underway for an 'old-school take' on DMX-controlled lighting (available this fall). Dilling plans to develop fixtures that enable the mixing of white neon in order to mimic the color temperature change in natural light throughout the day.
Although a Tecnolux chart specifies neon color by number, an almost infinite range of colors can be created by different combinations of glass tubing, phosphorous coatings, and type of gas inserted. When asked what color of neon Dilling would choose if he could pick just one, it's fitting that he should describe a color that exemplifies his own character-Number 31: Incandescent-warm and very pleasant. sallie moffat