From Art to Advertising: The Fascinating World of Neon Light Signs in NZ
For decades, neon lights have been a popular form of advertising and art in New Zealand. These bright, glowing signs are used to promote businesses, events, and products, and they are also popular among collectors and enthusiasts. But how did these dazzling displays of light become such an integral part of our visual landscape, and what makes them so captivating?
Neon lights were first discovered in the late 19th century by French physicist Georges Claude, who found that he could create a bright light by passing an electric current through a tube filled with gas. The first neon sign was erected in Paris in 1910, and soon after, the technology made its way to the United States, where it was quickly adopted by businesses looking for a new way to attract customers.
In New Zealand, neon lights began to appear in the 1920s, and by the 1940s, they were a common sight in cities and towns across the country. Some of the earliest examples of neon signs in New Zealand included the iconic Tip Top ice cream sign, which featured a swirling cone of ice cream, and the Neon Coffee Lounge sign, which advertised a popular café in the heart of Auckland.
One of the reasons that neon signs became so popular in New Zealand was their ability to create a sense of excitement and glamour. With their bright colours and bold forms, neon signs were able to capture the attention of passers-by and draw them into stores, restaurants, and other businesses. They were also seen as a sign of progress and modernity, a way for businesses to signal to customers that they were keeping up with the latest trends and technologies.
As the popularity of neon signs grew, they also began to be used as a form of art. Artists and designers began to experiment with the medium, creating intricate sculptures, installations, and murals that used neon lights to explore themes of light, colour, and form. Some of the most famous examples of neon art in New Zealand include the neon sculpture by artist Len Lye at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, and the neon installation by artist Paul Hartigan at the Auckland Art Gallery.
Despite the rise of digital advertising and LED lights, neon signs remain a popular and enduring form of visual culture in New Zealand. They continue to be used by businesses looking to stand out in a crowded marketplace, and by artists exploring the boundaries of light and space. And for those of us who love the bright glow of neon, they will always be a symbol of excitement, glamour, and creativity.