Exploring Neon

Neon radiates from all ends, stimulating the pupils in a blinking series of blue light specials now on display at the Zenith Gallery. The exhibition, “Still Glowing After All These Years – Neon 2003,” illuminates the strip of coffeehouses and bookstores that dot Seventh Street with a Technicolor glow.

With neon art, little is subject to interpretation, and the aesthetics of the medium are an acquired taste. Not all of the works triumph, but each has its own distinctive style and voice, and many should tease the eyes and induce a few grins from window shoppers.

Featured are premier neon artists who have made great efforts to create innovative pieces designed to shed some light on the context of their art.

Craig Kraft’s wall sconces are a particular delight. Suggesting stained glass butterflies, each is tinged with copper and violet, and their lit radiance exudes from within.

Philip Hazard’s witty collection of pop-art includes “Mask of Courage,” a large cat mask that resembles an electric-age commedia dell’ arte harlequin. Also of note is an angular, multicolored martini glass squiggled along the wall and a piece called “Joie de Vivre” that features a paint tube spilling light that may remind some of Jasper Johns’ recent work.

Margery Goldberg, the owner and curator of the Zenith Gallery, has a myriad of woodworks that hum with neon accents. Her piece “Promise of Things to Come” is a diorama of hills, mushroom-shaped trees and a sculpted lake formed out of different woods and lined with cool pastel lights depicting the sources of life: the sun and water.

“Oracle of Mane Lud,” by Quentin Moseley, is an impressionistic mural of random shapes suggesting futuristic cave art. His use of shapes presents a new take on the concept of pictographs.

A less cerebral piece is Erwin Timmers’ “Love Me, Love Me Not.” A gutted set of crosswalk lights that highlights the cookie cutter images of a family framed by an alternating neon green heart and red X, the work is a tad cliche. Still, it’s pleasing to look at.

Clearly the most painstakingly crafted pieces on exhibit are Mundy Hepburn’s intricate glass sculptures lit throughout with gradual hemorrhages of color. “Bouquet,” his three-dimensional still life, is a glittering garland of crystalline flowers.

The most elegant designs of the show are Mike Young’s brushed aluminum waves that arc and splash in suspended animation like frozen ocean sprays. At first glance, nautical imagery does come to mind and one would presume the artist’s inspiration would be the rolling seas.

“Still Glowing After All These Years – Neon 2003” is not for all tastes, as some of the artwork displayed shows neon in its most common form: adorning the windows of restaurants and taverns. But for those interested in looking beyond the soft burn of coiled lights that usually denote vacancies at motels, there is a great deal to admire at the Zenith Gallery. The medium of neon is more versatile than one would imagine, and this exhibition welcomes those artistic possibilities with glowing enthusiasm.

“Still Glowing After All These Years – Neon 2003” at the Zenith Gallery through March 2. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday, noon- 7p.m. and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. 413 7th St., NW.

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