1. Fionna Banner – “Be There Saturday Sweetheart”
This 30-foot-tall neon sign was constructed in 2000 on the top of the New Art Gallery in Walsall, UK. I don’t think it’s there anymore, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is this: The simple statement comes from the love letters of artist Jacob Epstein to Kathleen Garman. Although she was married to another man when she met Jacob, Kathleen fell in love with the sculptor and eventually left her husband for him. They stayed together until his death. Despite the rocky start (or perhaps because of it?) their letters are filled with sweetness and light. “With you I have every joy and every happiness,” Jacob wrote to his lover. “My nights are my worst time. I lie awake and think of you. Last night, Sunday, was wonderful moonlight and I thought of you, picturing how you were, how fascinating you looked on the balcony beside the lake in the moonlight and the lantern lights… I am always yours Kitty. Be there Saturday sweetheart.”
2. Robert Montgomery – “The People You Love”
Truth time: I’m making this list today because I’m in a melancholy mood. I have a migraine hangover and my brain is fuzzy and unwilling to focus. I feel like a ghost of myself. I’m being lazy and wallowing—I’ll admit that.
But don’t let that take away from the art, because all three of these pieces are wonderful, lovely and haunting, modern and retro, sweet and sad. Artist Robert Montgomery created this piece after the death of a close friend. For him, ghosts are a positive force, a way of keeping in touch with the people he has lost. “I find the idea that love can somehow triumph over death an idea I need to keep sane,” he said.
But you know what I really love about this piece? It’s not just the ghost-y-ness or the eerie setting or the sparse and square font. It’s the way it turns light into a metaphor for humanity, for that elusive thing we call the soul or the spirit. Stare at a neon sign, then look away. The afterglow remains, spots on our vision. An imprint of what was. A visual ghost. More than a memory, less than a presence.
3. Tracey Emin – “I Listen To The Ocean And All I Hear Is You”
I saved my favorite for the finale. I find Tracey Emin so inspiring, both as an artist and as a human being. I love her brash attitude and her feminist message. I love her sensitive, neurotic, erotic works (I stumbled across “Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With” when I was in college and that piece blew my freaking mind). I particularly love her neon ladies, all naked and glowing with legs spread and toes pointed. I would have shared one of those, but I try to keep my blog SFW, so instead here is one of her text-based pieces (another good one reads: “People like you need to fuck people like me”—not as poetic, but pretty damn funny). Emin’s extremely prolific and likes to work with light-up letters, so if you like this as much as I do, you can see more of her work here.
And you know what? After writing all this and doing the work of inserting images and googling details, I find myself feeling much, much better. I think it’s Tracey’s good influence (or I’m just going to pretend that’s it and not the glass-and-a-half of wine I drank while waiting for my internet to catch up to my thoughts). Thanks, lady.