Dan Flavin’s neon art

Light Show, the exhibition about to open at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank, reminded me of another exhibit there from 2006, a retrospective of the work of neon artist Dan Flavin.

Flavin was a New Yorker, born in 1933, who moved from Abstract Expressionist drawings & paintings, via mixed media into his first experiments with electric lighting in 1961. He crossed into using fluorescents shortly after, and confined himself to using standard length tubes, in the colours they were manufactured in for industrial use.

For an artist working with industrial materials, the effect of Flavin’s work on viewing it, is profoundly spiritual; immersive and rather intimate, despite the large scale of some of the pieces. Frequently, his installations feature repeating instances of single colour tubes, the cumulative effect being paradoxically warm for such utilitarian components – in many ways a similar experience to listening to great techno music. It’s the kind of art that washes over you and takes you inside your head in a way that many other more traditional types can’t, and while the effect can be difficult to articulate, it’s no less impactful for it.

As well as Flavin, the upcoming Hayward show also features, among many others, Ann Veronica Janssens, Jim Campbell and Olafur Eliasson, whose stunning ‘The Weather Project’ was such a huge success at Tate Modern a few years back.