By Anita Malhotra
Neon artist Lisa Schulte has been creating neon for events and films in Los Angeles for more than 30 years, earning her the moniker “The Neon Queen.”
Hired to create a futuristic city for a special event at the Pacific Design Center for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she went on to fashion neon pieces for many Hollywood films, including many in the Batman series, as well as for countless music videos, TV shows, fashion shows and special events.
Her company Nights of Neon specializes in custom manufacturing of new neon works and has produced over 10,000 custom-built pieces of neon available to rent, one of the largest collections in the world.
Ten years ago, Schulte began creating her own personal artistic works in neon, pushing the boundaries of the medium by working in unconventional ways, including with natural materials.
Her most recent works, in a new style featuring an explosive synthesis of bright colors, shapes and text, are currently on display at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California.
Anita Malhotra spoke with Schulte at her studio and showroom in Van Nuys, Los Angeles on Feb. 17, 2017.
AM: How did you first get interested in art and in neon in particular?
LS: I was always interested in art when I was growing up but I came from a family that didn’t think that you could actually pursue a career in the field of the arts, so I was not encouraged to do it. Now my father is very proud of me that I did not listen to him and continued to pursue art.
I always had a fascination with light from my earlier days. I was a lightboard operator in nightclubs and I designed and controlled the lighting system for the dance floor.
So at that early age of about 19 I became very fascinated with light and started to focus in on one particular light source, neon. Even though neon’s been around for hundreds of years in one form or another, it wasn’t really being used outside of signage. So to bring it into a nightclub atmosphere and get creative with it was the beginning of my experience with light.
AM: Where was that?
LS: It was in San Diego, California.
AM: You had an injury to your eye when you were a child. Did that influence your interest in working with light?
LS: I think it was a very unconscious thing. I was shot in the eye with a BB gun by my brother. At the time they didn’t have very good advancements in eye surgery so they put patches over both my eyes for several months in fear that the BB was still located inside my eye and may travel to the brain and give me a blood clot. I lived in darkness for three to four months and also with the fear of possibly never being able to see out of that eye again.
The moment of being able to see again and without having to wear patches and the moment of light hitting you when you’ve lived in complete darkness was such a powerful and joyous feeling I think it did have something to do with me going into the nightclub and deciding, “This is what I want to do – I want to control those lights.”
I still have a lot of problems with my eye. I have to have laser surgeries all the time to relieve the pressure, so it is such a joy 50 year later to see light. I’ve created my own world of light around me. And shaping and bending light is a pretty powerful feeling. Continue reading