Earlier today, we heard the desperately sad news that Walthamstow’s Chris Bracey had lost his battle against prostate cancer. Having spent the day with Chris only a couple of months ago at God’s Own Junkyard’s street party, where he was in his usual great form and was buzzing about the amount of people who’d turned out, it came as a shock to hear – and we thought it was only fitting to pay tribute to the man who lit up the world through his 40-year career producing neon and his magnetic personality.
As a man from humble beginnings (his dad was a coalminer in Wales before developing a trade in neon signage for fairgrounds from their home in east London), Chris became a prolific signmaker in Soho, bringing a distinctive style to the area’s infamous sex clubs, before becoming increasingly famous for his high profile work for the likes of Professor Green, Selfridges (you can see his work currently beaming down from the front of the store) and David LaChapelle, as well as his gallery shows and commissions for the big screen (including four Batman movies and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’). But it was his neon wonderland God’s Own Junkyard that always seemed to give him the most enjoyment when you talked to him.
Originally set up as a place for him and his family and friends to hang out, enjoy a few beers and bask in the hot pinks and green hues of his creations, GOJY has become one of London’s must-visit attractions, its location on an industrial estate in E17 the only thing stopping it from being mobbed every weekend (it still attracts hundreds if not thousands of people every month).
Chris’s wife Linda says: ‘We married aged 16 and I am grateful for a long and loving marriage to a warm, talented, kind and funny man who has left the world a more colourful and vibrant place. God’s Own Junkyard will continue in Walthamstow as Chris planned and wanted. Chris is “a light that will never go out”, but has passed the neon baton onto our sons. Watch this space.’
Despite Chris having to leave us far too early for the great neon wonderland in the sky, his oeuvre lives on, illuminating the screen in classic movies, brightening up the skies above Oxford Street, and beaming out from God’s Own Junkyard in E17. All hail.
By Mark O’Donnell. Photos by Rob Greig.
Here are some lovely details of his collection from when we visited God’s Own Junkyard before it moved to its current location: