City Lights Neon turns neon sign design into an art form

City Lights Neon, near Eden Park, is way beyond your basic flashing OPEN window sign and has made neon sign design into an art form. For more than 25 years the company has made creative, sometimes quirky signs, for large corporations, restaurants and small businesses.  

The company, founded in 1983 and operated by husband and wife Dennis Dix and Dana Burton, started in a third-floor studio in Over-the-Rhine. The pair was inspired to study the art of neon sign making while living in Washington D.C. and seeing an NEA support exhibit called NEONFRONTS.

"The work transformed many otherwise vacant public streetscapes and empty storefronts with color, light, shape, and concept. Dennis and I became intrigued with neon as an artistic medium," said Burton, whose background is in film.

Burton and Dix began researching schools where they could learn more about the nuts and bolts of neon sign making, which can be dangerous and involves working with temps around 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Eventually they settled on Northern Advertising in Wisconsin.

"The learning environment was focused on a student's ability to learn a trade for employment at sign companies after an intensive session. We found a school that accepted our interest as an artistic curiosity rather than a vocational pursuit. One must possess knowledge and skill related to the process, as well as overcome the intellectual tendency toward fear, both in terms of the flames, as well as the high voltage electric," Burton said.

Burton and Dix, who originally lived in the Cincinnati area returned here to start their company. They named their company City Lights Neon in homage to Paris, the "City of Lights."

"The origin of the name speaks to our philosophy: innovation, aesthetics and intellect. Although environmental graphics and signage are often what comes to mind when one thinks of neon, we did not endeavor to become a sign company. We viewed neon as a medium with which to draw with light, graphically," Burton said.

Over the years, the company has made custom signs and artwork for several Procter & Gamble brands including Tide, as well as Playhouse in the Park, the Cincinnati Art Museum, Clear Channel, Teri Studios and Pomodori's Pizza. The pair frequently work with LEDs that allow for unlimited color mixing, changing, and modulating effects, Burton said.

In 2004, they worked on a project for Claire Fontaine, a Paris-based collective artist, on a neo-conceptual piece that was powered by energy collected from solar panels and stored in a 12 volt DC battery.

"As designers, we work with recycled content eco-resins, bamboo, stainless steel, powder coated metal. Each project is viewed individually, holistically, whether the project revolves around visual merchandising for retail, an exhibit display, special effects for a concept event, a cutting edge interior, custom signage," Burton said.

Writer: Feoshia Henderson

Source: Dana Burton, co-owner City Lights Neon

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