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The artist Lili Lakich and the world of neon

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artist Lili Lakich

The artist Lili Lakich and the world of neon

You could say that the artist Lili Lakich looks at the world through neon-lit glasses. She loves this medium so much, she set up a museum to what she considers America’s greatest art form.

As Edith Wharton once said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” In Lakich’s case, she wants to spread the neon light.

The artist Lili Lakich: A world of color

Lakich was born in Washington, DC, but grew up in Tucson, Arizona and then in California when her father– a soldier– was first transferred to Davis Monthan Air Base and then sent to the Korean War.

“When my father returned from the Korea, the first thing he did was buy a brand new, light-blue Chrysler. We drove all over the United States, visiting relatives and old friends from California to Florida,” she said.

During their road trips, Lakich loved the night time driving best: “It was then that the darkness would come alive with brightly colored images of cowboys twirling lassos atop rearing palominos, sinuous Indians shooting bows and arrows, or huge trucks in the sky with their wheels of light spinning.”

“These were the neon signs attempting to lure motorists to stop at a particular motel or truck-stop diner. We stopped, but it was always the neon signs that I remembered,” she said.

The artist Lili Lakich: Electric art

She attended college at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York but was not satisfied with the traditional painting, printmaking and sculpture classes.

It was there that she created her first light sculpture, a self-portrait with light bulbs powered by a motor that blinked to run down her face like tears.

“For me, art is cathartic—-a means of packaging emotion and exorcising it. Once I had made a portrait of myself crying, I could stop crying. The sculpture cried for me,” she said.

Incorporating her love of neon into her art work, she learned to use them in her Plexiglas sculptures, and then later integrating them in her designs.

After her graduation from Pratt, she moved to San Francisco before settling in Los Angeles in 1968 where she had her first neon sculpture exhibits.

The artist Lili Lakich: A dying medium

She had several exhibits and did a number of commissions throughout the years, like for the Washington Building in downtown Los Angeles and the Columbia Square Building in San Diego.

Aside from creating the “L.A. Angel” at California Plaza, Lakich created her largest public art sculpture, the 114-ft. long “Flyaway” for the Van Nuys FlyAway bus terminal in Van Nuys, California.

Likewise, she was invited to be part of a show in 2011, one of the “Downtown Legends,” that was curated by Dale Youngman for Art Share in LA.

The artist Lili Lakich: A dying medium

But even before this, she had realized that the medium of neon was dying out by the late 1970s. The materials were getting difficult to procure thanks to the rise of plastic fluorescent lighting.

She decided to establish a museum praising neon: “Neon is associated with the highest aspirations and fantasies of the American dream, as well as the lowest manifestation of commercialism and banality.”

“There is no other art form that is as symbolic of the American spirit,” she said.

With Richard Jenkins, she founded the Museum of Neon Art in her studio in Los Angeles in 1981.

“Like the aurora borealis, I find colored neon light to be very spiritual. So, if you find your spirituality in strip clubs and liquor stores then, by all means, yes,” she said in an interview with LA Times.

“Neon is so beautiful — no apology is needed,” she added.

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