Neon: Roger Vail

Flamingos, Las Vegas, 2007 © Roger Vail

Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, 2007 © Roger Vail

Roger Vail’s Neon: Forty years ago when I was student at the School of Art Institute of Chicago I would often pass by Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. It eventually became part of my molecular makeup, having something to do with all the night photographs I’ve made since then. At the end of my time there I became infactuated as well as with the fluorescent light pieces of Dan Flavin, and the sublime beauty of the atmospheres they create.

The latest pictures are in part a salute to their work, taking neon signs as points of departure. And with this in mind I can do no better than yo leave you with a now-famous quote from Raymond Chandler’s The Little SisterI smelled Los Angeles before I got to it. It smelled stale and old like a living room that has been closed too long. But the colored lights fooled you. The lights were wonderful. There ought to be a monument to the man who invented neon lights. Fifteen stories high, solid marble. There’s a boy who really made something out of nothing. 

iviera Hotel Facade & Tree, Las Vegas , 2007 © Roger Vail

Roof Exhaust Duct Reflection, 2007 © Roger Vail


Sometimes you have to balance
the folks, sometimes it’s full.
When people are farther apart
they get the truest feeling
of the ride. Yo Yo, SkyDiver,
Chaos, they’re all the same.
They are designed to lift
the people out of this world
and give them a small helping
of difference, a quick life
they’ve never felt before.
From here, I see it all.
Sometimes money falls
like rain from heaven
stained the color of whatever
light is burning at the time.
Sometimes skirts fly up
and the girls don’t have a chance
to worry what I get to see.
I take them forward
into the new world.
I wait as they change
into circles of color, then
reassemble as we slow down.
They’re always amazed, always
embarrassed by what’s been revealed,
what they’ve become.

Quinton Duval

Del Mar Theater, Santa Cruz , 2007 , 20 x13.5

Del Mar Theater, Santa Cruz , 2007 © Roger Vail

Oscar’s Martini & Viva Las Vegas Signs, Las Vegas, 2007 © Roger Vail

About Roger VailBorn and educated in Chicago, Vail, 62, is an intense, compact man who speaks with the same forthright conviction seen in his compositions. He credits the city itself and the Art Institute of Chicago, where he earned his BFA and MFA degrees, with forming his aesthetic sensibility.

In Chicago, Vail spent a lot of time pouring over images by seminal artists like Walker Evans and Robert Frank – two influences championed by the museum’s then-photo curator, Hugh Evans. Evans became Vail’s mentor and advocate and placed the young photographer’s works in the museum’s collection, paving the way for acquisitions by others, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum. 

Vail’s exposures, which range from several minutes to hours, reveal not only the otherworldly aspects of his subjects, but a variety of spooky artifacts – none of which the artist conceives beforehand. “It’s the forms, colors and textures that catch my eye when I’m working,” says Vail. “Content comes later.” By David Roth. Read the full article here. 

Car Window Reflection #2, Las Vegas, 2007 © Roger Vail

Diamond Store , Los Angeles, 2007 © Roger Vail

To contact Roger and to see more of his work, visit his website here.

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