Modern Moonlight celebrates the beauty of vintage signage and raises the question of how these elements from the past enhance the spaces we inhabit in the present. I want the viewer to feel the atmosphere created by a vintage sign and to understand the experience of those who live their lives in its orbit.
The exhibition name is taken from the 1972 Jonathan Richman song, “Roadrunner,” which declares “I’m in love with Massachusetts and the neon when it’s cold outside,” extolling the joys of driving around suburban Boston “…with the radio on at night. And me in love with modern moonlight.”
I began documenting vintage signage in the area in 2003 and have had to mark an increasing number of my photo files as “Gone.” Depicting various Massachusetts locations, some iconic and some overlooked, these paintings make an argument that in a world overwhelmed by redevelopment, we should do more to preserve the vintage signage and architecture that connect us to our rich visual past.
These images of signs that are often overlooked as just part of the local landscape inspired people to share personal stories with me. Whether as nostalgia, as a loved or loathed landmark, or even as political controversy, vintage signs evoke a range of emotions in those who live with them. Sometimes, the advertising message of a sign is directly contradicted by its meaning for the community.
Some signs, regardless of what they advertise, are seen as a symbol of home, (“when we passed it on the highway, I knew we were almost there.”) trigger a treasured memory, (“We always used to go there after Prom!”) or cue a debate (“I don’t care if the Citgo sign is a beloved Boston landmark, it signifies dirty dealings in Venezuela.”)
My work is about both the immediate visual impact a vintage element has on its neighborhood and also the unintended emotional responses attached to those same signs over time by residents of that neighborhood. Shining, alluring, and enduring – vintage neon illuminates both the darkness and people’s untold stories.
Below are a few of the paintings from the show, click through for full images.