Exhibition review: ‘The Light Within’ at RISE Gallery

By - Wednesday 1st March, 2017

This flashy exhibition means everyone in Croydon can see the light

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Discovered in 1898 by William Ramsay and Morris Travers, the inert gas neon, which glows red when electrically excited, soon became used as an advertising medium. However, its initial popularity became its downfall: its ubiquity was seen as tawdry, sleazy, and cheap. How better then, than to celebrate the shift from cutting-edge to edginess, than by welcoming neon to the art world?

As a medium for art, neon is now a venerable 50 year-old. Born of Op Art and Pop Art in the 1960s, like that naughty auntie at the family party, it steadfastly retains its ability to shock.

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

RISE Gallery’s exhibition, ‘The Light Within’ has some fine examples of light-driven art by Lauren Baker, Lee Blackshaw, Jimmy Galvin, Illuminati Neon, and Rebecca Mason.

It’s a fantastic collection and I liked it a lot. Clever, punning, knowing, and naturally with more than a nod to punk and goth culture, the otherness of neon was enthusiastically embraced.

All of the pieces on show hit the mark, some with more impact than others. There was one piece that to me looked to be a cliché, an easy open goal: pin-lipped queens and regal ‘Phil’ tattoos perhaps an image we know too well to see it afresh. But was that the intention? Was this intended to be ironic? “Yeah, this is what you’re expecting, right – so here it is”.

I don’t know. On balance, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

There were loads of icons given the neon treatment – from Trump to Thatcher to the Kray twins (what are they trying to say?). Going back to the easy open goal – why no Stalin emblazoned with ‘Eat At Joe’s’? (maybe it’s already been done).

What can’t be argued about was the excellence of execution, presentation and technique.

One of the highlights (did you see what I did there?) was Lauren Baker’s ‘The White Light’: a neon-lit coffin with a mirror backdrop that puts the spectator firmly within the box when they stand in front of it. Clever.

I really enjoyed this exhibition. It’s worth seeing, and it’s free. Though, if you are feeling flush, take your bank card – you can buy these excellent works of art.

‘The Light Within’ runs until 9th March.

Paul Dennis

Paul Dennis

An award-winning journalist, Paul has worked on angling titles for much of his career, including 16 years as deputy editor of Angler's Mail and 4 years as editor of Total Sea Fishing magazine. He is a regular freelance contributor for a wide array of non-angling-related titles, author of two books on angling and a widely-followed authority on the subject.

More Posts

  • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose


    I loved the look of the exhibition but I also left with the same sentiment (“What are they trying to say?”). The neon treatment was pretty – but it was hard to pin down any kind of coherent argument or philosophy!

    Still, it’s very cool to see stuff like this in Croydon and I hope more people take the time to visit RISE GALLERY in St George’s Walk to see the exhibition for themselves :)

    • lizsheppardjourno

      I was likewise left wondering whether the fact that it all seemed rather obvious (‘weapons of mass distraction’ and so on), was really a kind of joke on itself, and on the obvious-ness of any message being writ in neon.

      A neon coffin would be cool, though.