The Emergence of Neon Sign Art in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s streets embrace the dark evening sky that glows with a chorus of neon lights for nearly a century. In kaleidoscopic yellows, greens, and fuchsias, signs once flowed from the upper levels tong (tenement buildings). They were first introduced to the market in the 1920s to help businesses advertise their services. Add a pop of color to your space with our custom neon signs!

But it was not until the postwar period that the city truly shined. Workshops and factories competed to shape, bend and blow delicate gas-filled glasses tubes into iconic symbols of a prosperous metropolis.

Only a few remaining artisans have been able to make ends meet with the advent of cheaper neon alternatives like LED. The films of Wong Kar Wai and Ridley Scott immortalized Hong Kong’s distinctive cityscape. A new generation is now taking up the challenge to keep the neon lights on.

Karen Chan is a designer, and artist who exhibits under quiettomymess. She also organizes exhibitions celebrating Hong Kong traditions. In the early part of 2019, she organized a neon-led project My light, my hood at Kong Art Space. This was in collaboration with Master Wong (one of the city’s most prominent neon makers). “It was very important to work alongside one of the most prominent and oldest masters in Hong Kong” for the exhibition. Chan, who is 70 years old, has been in this industry for 60+ years,” Chan says. Add a pop of color to your space with our custom neon signs!

Chan says neon is a “visual tongue” that Hong Kong has created. This language can take on a new meaning when Chan takes an artistic approach to what was originally a business product. “We’re always talking art and culture and the interconnectedness of them,” she says. “Neon is an integral part of Hong Kong culture. People are starting to recognize it as an artistic form. We can accept that Neon is part of our visual culture and language. However, we also appreciate the artistry behind it and raise it to a higher level.

“Hong Kong’s dynamic and exciting city is constantly evolving. We want to make Hong Kong better and more modern. Chan warns, however, that this can lead to some of our heritage being lost or could fade. “That’s also the reason why the neon lighting exhibition was so important to me and to the other artists. We explored how Hong Kong’s traditional crafts can evolve with time and how art can give them new meaning.

The evidence is mounting that her conviction is shared by many other young, independent businesses in the area — including bars, restaurants, and fashion labels — who are seeking to offer neon a place of safety, away from the elements, and where it is respected as a valuable artifact, just like paintings. Add a pop of color to your space with our custom neon signs!

Chan says, “Neon is a strong part of our local culture, of the visual language. And although we have been moving towards it, I feel positive.” “I think there is a way to save neon and to enhance it. By allowing the masters of neon to collaborate with artists, designers, and other creative people, we can transform it into an art form.

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