Tinker Toys in Light
Art In Review
The New York Times
January 31, 2003
'Excited Inner Gases'
White Box Gallery
525 West 26th Street, Chelsea
Jeff Chiplis, from Cleveland, is advertised as the inventor of recycled neon art. He takes colored neon signs and turns them into hanging abstract sculptures. Juan Puntes, who runs White Box, told me that Mr. Chiplis had been making neon art for years, showing in biennials for neon artists in Lima, Ohio. This is his New York debut.
He alters the signs, using bits and pieces of them. He begs, borrows and steals. Sometimes he cajoles neon sign shops for discards; sometimes he them from stores going out of business. Once he found a sign on the side of the road. He discovers what colors they are when he plugs them in. Hints of their former selves occasionally appear in the glowing shapes of beer mugs and pianos, but these are deeply submerged in abstract forms.
Also, word fragments are turned into silly puns and jokes. ("Busch" becomes "Butch," "Lite" becomes "Lit " in the signs at Chelsea Commons Bar on 10th Avenue at 24th Street, which is host of an extension of the show.)
These are Tinker Toys in light. The game of rescuing trash and turning it into high modernist sculpture is part of the fun, Mr. Chiplis's and ours. Stuart Davis, dry, comic, abstract stylist and American archaeologist, is a good comparison. Imagine Davis in neon.