The Power of Neon

The Power of Neon

The Power of Neon session take attendees on a magical tour starting with an introduction to the history of neon, particularly in relation to Blackpool, presented by Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Chair in Early Film and Popular Culture, University of Sheffield.

We were then transport to the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool, home of the world famous Illuminations to experience the gallery’s latest contemporary light art exhibition ‘The Lights’ which features neon works by artists such as Tracy Emin, Joseph Kosuth and Tony Heaton OBE. Grundy Curator, Paulette Terry Brien, and Tom Ireland, Operations Officer at the Grundy and co-curator of ‘The Lights’ who spoke about the organisation’s recent focus to build a contemporary light based art collection, about the challenges of installing and showing light works ending with a Q&A.

Completing the session was Gemma Saunders, Programme Producer for Quays Culture in conversation with neon artist Jonathan Lang who creates unpredictable one-off artworks that invite playful interaction; he spoke about his passion for neon and his new work being shown this December at Salford Quays; we ended with Jonathan answering questions from the audience.

This session would be of interest to artists, festival producers, curators and anyone who loves neon and wants to understand its development and how neon is being used by contemporary artists today.

You will learn some amazing facts you never knew about neon and see a range of exciting work from international artists working in the medium


Professor Vanessa Toulmin

Chair in Early Film and Popular Entertainment, University of Sheffield

Professor Vanessa Toulmin is Chair in Early Film and Popular Entertainment and the author of 14 books with four dedicated to Blackpool’s iconic heritage.

She is currently Director of City and Culture at the University of Sheffield and Chair of the Morecambe Winter Gardens. She has worked extensively on Blackpool heritage and is both a collector and historian of neon in relation to its use in the entertainment industry in the United Kingdom. 

Her areas of international specialisation cover travelling entertainments, fairgrounds, circus, popular entertainment, variety and music halls, seaside entertainment and the relationship between the entertainment ecology and the built environment.

Jonathan Lang

Neon Artist

Jonathan Lang is a self-taught neon artist who creates unpredictable one-off artworks that invite interaction, playfulness and curiosity. He has always been fascinated by how light works and how electricity can create light and studied engineering at college. Following some experiments with fluorescent tubes and an increasing fascination with gasses he taught himself to make neon in his bedroom at the age of 20. He creates one-off public art installations using gas, glass and electricity as primary materials. Neon is a scientific and highly technical discipline, but through his flexible approach to the medium and creative glass bending techniques, Jonathan creates work that is playful and engaging. His lack of formal training means his experimental approach is very rare in this field.

Paulette Terry Brien

Curator, Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool

Paulette has been Curator at Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool since 2017. Founded in 1911, Grundy Art Gallery draws on the contemporary context and heritage of Blackpool to deliver an ambitious exhibitions and events programme.

Prior to commencing this post, Paulette was involved in the inception and delivery of several artist-led initiatives based in Manchester, including The International 3, of which she was co-founder and co-director.

Over 17 years, The International 3; which ceased operating at the end of 2017, presented a year-round programme of exhibitions and events both on and off-site, as well as representing artists and participating in national and international art fairs. The International 3 was also the Curatorial Coordinator of The Manchester Contemporary art fair from 2010-2017.

Additionally, over the last 25+ years, Paulette has worked part-time and as a freelancer for a range of other organisations including Arts Council England and Creative Industries Development Service. Paulette is regularly invited to deliver presentations within academic and professional development settings, has been a judge for several art prizes and open submission exhibitions, has acted as an artist’s mentor, and is a steering group member for The Manchester Contemporary. She has written articles, critical texts and catalogue contributions for Axisweb, a-n, Manchester Art Gallery, Touchstones, Rochdale and Drawing Room, London, among others. Paulette graduated from Dartington College of Arts in 1992 with a First Class BA (Hons), and in 2016 was awarded an MPhil from Manchester Metropolitan University for her Postgraduate study of the curatorial condition of the contemporary art fair.

Tom Ireland

Operations Officer at Grundy Art Gallery and co-curator of 'The Lights'

In addition to his role at Grundy, Ireland is also founder, director/curator of Supercollider Contemporary Art Projects, a curatorial platform delivering contemporary art projects in Blackpool. Operating since 2008, Supercollider aims to make meaningful contribution to Blackpool’s cultural offer. Supercollider is currently on hiatus.

reland maintains an artistic practice and has p​resented work at FRAC Champagne-Ardennes (Reims, FR), Whitechapel Gallery (London,UK) and Whitworth Gallery (Manchester, UK) Deptford X Festival (London, UK) titledateduration (Manchester, UK) ArebyteLASER (London, UK); The Atkinson (Southport, UK); David Dale Gallery (Glasgow, UK); Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and Baltic 39, Newcastle/Gateshead, UK)  and Eastside Projects (Birmingham, UK).

The Power of Neon

by Light Up The North