NEON ART BEHIND-THE-SCENES

February 20, 2020 at 5:00 am

We visit Long Island City, Queens to bring you inside the art and science of neon.

Aired on August 6, 2018 and February 19, 2020. 

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>> COMBINING ART WITH SCIENCE
CAN LEAD TO ENDLESS
POSSIBILITIES.
LONG ISLAND CITY BASED ARTIST
KENNY GREENBERG TAKES US INSIDE
HIS STUDIO, CRIP TON NEON FOR A
CLOSER LOOK.
>> I WAS DEFINITELY LOOKING FOR
A COMBINATION OF ART AND
SCIENCE.
I DON'T KNOW WHERE I THOUGHT
NEON CAME FROM, BUT YOU DON'T
THINK ABOUT IT.
YOU DON'T LOOK AT A LIGHT BULB
AND THINK ABOUT HOW IT'S MADE.
WHEN I LEARNED THAT EVERY SINGLE
NEON SIGN THAT YOU'VE EVER SEEN
ANYWHERE WAS MADE BY HAND, THAT
JUST REALLY ATTRACTED ME.
>> I THINK ALSO WHAT I LOVED
THEN AND STILL LOVE ABOUT IT IS
IT'S ACTUALLY A VERY OLD
TECHNOLOGY.
WHAT WE DO TODAY IS NOT THAT
MUCH DIFFERENT FROM WHAT WAS
GOING ON 100 YEARS AGO.
WE'RE TAKING MATTER AND MAKING
LIGHT.
WE'RE TURNING MATTER INTO LIGHT
ENERGY, AND WE DO THAT EVERY DAY
KIND OF CASUALLY.
BUT IT'S KIND OF REALLY
THRILLING.
THE FIRST PRODUCTION I WORKED ON
WAS THE ORIGINAL BROADWAY "MISS
SAIGON."
THERE WAS A PERIOD WHERE ON
AVERAGE I WAS DOING 12 A YEAR.
WE KIND OF HAVE A REPUTATION
FORGETTING THE JOB DONE.
THE JOKE IS SOMETIMES I'LL GET
CALLED BY ONE OF THE SENIOR
SHOPS AND THEY'VE GOT WE'VE GOT
A LOT OF TIME FOR THIS ONE THIS
TIME.
WE'VE GOT TWO WEEKS.
I'LL BASICALLY TRACE OVER THE
DESIGN ON THE COMPUTER, AND I DO
WHAT I CALL NEONIZING IT AND
THAT BECOMES A TEMPLATE.
WE ACTUALLY REVERSE IT BECAUSE
NEON IS BENT SO THAT ITS FACE IS
ALWAYS FLAT.
SO WE'RE BENDING IT FROM BEHIND.
ALL RIGHT.
WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE.
WE SEAL IT AND WE ALLOW A PORT
TO COME OUT OF IT.
>> IT'S GOING TO KIND OF
COLLAPSE A LITTLE BIT.
WHEN I'M BLOWING IT, I'M BLOWING
IT OUT TO PRESERVE THE CHANNEL.
MATCHING IT TO THE PATTERN,
BLOCKING IT DOWN A LITTLE BIT.
>> WE CAN PULL ALL OF THE AIR
OUT OF IT, AND WE ACTUALLY HEAT
IT WHILE WE'RE DOING THAT SO WE
MAKE SURE WE GET ALL OF THE
MATTER OUT OF IT AND WE TRY TO
ACHIEVE AS CLOSE TO AN OUTER
SPACE EMPTINESS AS POSSIBLE
INSIDE THE TUBE.
>> TURNING UP THE VACUUM PUMP,
ENGAGE AND THEN WE FILL IT WITH
A RARE GAS AND IT'S FILLED AT A
LOW PRESSURE.
AND WHEN AN ELECTRIC CURRENT
PAPSS THROUGH THE RARE GAS,
THERE'S A VERY, VERY EFFICIENT
EXCHANGE OF ENERGY.
WHAT HAPPENS IS -- IT'S NOT THAT
SIMPLE, BUT A SIMPLIFIED
EXPLANATION IS THAT THE
ELECTRICITY KNOCKS ELECTRONS OFF
THE ATOMS AND THESE ELECTRONS
BOUNCE AROUND AND KNOCK INTO
OTHER ATOMS AND ELECTRONS AND
GET PUSHED BACK IN TO THE AT TOM
AGAIN.
AT THE MOMENT THAT IT'S PUSHED
BACK INTO THE AT TOM, THE AT TOM
HAS TO RELEASE ENERGY IN ORDER
TO ABSORB IT AND THAT ENERGY IS
LIGHT.
>> THAT'S AIR LIGHTING UP.
>> WELL, THE GASES THEMSELVES,
THERE'S REALLY ONLY FOUR OR FIVE
RARE GASES.
THE COLOR RANGES NOT THAT MUCH
IN THE GASES THEMSELVES.
IN FACT, IN MOST NEON YOU'RE
SEEING, WE OR USUALLY ONLY USING
ONE OR TWO GASES.
ONE GAS IS GIVING US A RED LIGHT
AND THE OTHER GAS IS GIVING US A
BLUE LIGHT THAT HAS A LOT OF
ULTRAVIOLET IN IT AS WELL.
BUT IF THE TRUBS COATED WITH
PHOSPHORUS, THEY REACT TO THE
ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT AND WE START
TO SEE ADDITIONAL COLORS COMING
FROM THE ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT
AFFECTS THE PHOSPHORUS, AND
THERE'S GREEN AND PURPLE, ALL
DIFFERENT COLORS.
AND AT THE SAME TIME SOME OF THE
BLUE LIGHT FILTERS THROUGH THE
PHOSPHOR BECAUSE IT'S A THIN
COATING.
SO YOU GET A MIX OF WHATEVER THE
PHOSPHOR ROUSE IS PUTTING OUT
AND THE VISIBLE BLUE LIGHT.
ADD TO THAT, YOU CAN ACTUALLY
HAVE DIFFERENT COLORED GLASS.
SO THE GLASS CAN KIND OF
INTENSIFY THE COLORS.
I THINK AT LAST COUNT I USUALLY
USE A NUMBER OF PROBABLY ABOUT
TWO TO 300 DLOORS ARE AVAILABLE.
IF WE OR WORKING WITH HAND-BLOWN
GLASS, YOU CAN GET DIMENSIONAL
WITH IT AS WELL.
I THINK THE VARIATIONS ARE KIND
OF ENDLESS.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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