The “neonization” of Budapest started approximately fifty years ago – beautiful typos and neat colors lighted up and made the city image more chiseled. Főz-Süt-Fűt (Cooks-Bakes-Heats), Bambi, Méteráru (Dry Goods), Csemege (Deli) – just to mention a few. True glory! However, only a few of these beloved illuminating signs remained in operable condition today. Luca Patkós called the CSŐ! project to life after realizing and understanding this. The main goal of the project is to save and preserve the neon ads for future generations. Interview!
After the 52-pages long Neon Budapest volume and poster created together with photographer Isabel Val and Iván Kozák, here comes the neon-saving CSŐ! project. Where does this love for neon signs come from? When and why did you start to focus on them? Why is saving them important to you?
I was looking for topics for my diploma project in graphic design on the Hungarian University of Visual Arts back in 2015, and that was when I read about them, or, to be more accurate, about the work of the Neonon group. It was truly love at first sight. What’s more, saving them was also obvious from the very beginning, but I did not know the how at that time… It took me four years to get to know professionals from whom I could ask help, and to be able to put together a viable concept.
The neon ads are important from the point of the city image, their removal is followed by severe public outcry, yet not many people actually do something for their preservation. This is what I want to change. The neon ads living their glory days in the ‘70s still make people’s hearts skip a beat today, and now, owing to CSŐ!, they can be brought home in the form of a poster, while they save an abandoned neon ad.
The posters that are available for sale at Ajándék Terminál (Gift Terminal) display Csemege, Kedves presszó, Kézimunka… Why are these ones the first?
I chose the ones that work well as posters. My primary goal was for anyone purchasing them to have a decorative poster, and it is only secondary that buyers help and support a cause with their act. I like it when objects have multiple layers: I think everyone would be willing to gift a poster displaying the sign “Kedves” (kind), and if afterwards the neon-related background story comes up, it only makes it more interesting.
Kézimunka is, by the way, a personal favorite: we have already worked together with János Balázs, the owner of the store operating since 1934 on another project (BZZZ Fans – Ed.).
They illuminate with faint light in the dark, this way evoking the fantastic atmosphere of neon ads. With what technique are these special pieces created?
They mix phosphorescing pigments in the sieve ink – this is what makes them have such nice glimmer. We experimented quite a lot with Péter Lizicska, who is responsible for the sieve printing, as the surface and color of the paper on which the ink is printed is of significant importance. In order for the phosphorescing pigment to work, it must be mixed into light ink, but it was also important that we used vivid color combinations that look good in daylight, so we had to make a lot of compromises.
The CSŐ! could start with Mihály Hallgass neon restorer, the owner of the company Decorlight.
That’s right, we met during the preparation of the previous “Neon Budapest” guide. We were looking for a neon ad creator with Isabel Val, whom we could interview and in whose workshop we could take some photos. Misi was very nice and open from the first second. So when I brought this project up to him, he was in without any questions.
You spend the amount generated from poster sales on renovating the neon ads in Budapest. What is the exact process for this? Are there any poster renovation projects pending right now?
Before I launched CSŐ! publicly, I wanted to secure some neon ads that we could actually renovate. We assessed these with Misi to determine how big of a task they were from a technical point of view and of course to determine the approximate costs of the renovation.
Once the amount needed flows in from the posters, we start the renovation process. Luckily, this has already started; FÜRDŐ (Bath) will be the first neon ad in January. Misi and I will once again visit the site, he will dismantle the faulty letters and will prepare the work. He carries out the repairs in his own workshop, and then he installs them back on. We will take photos of each phase, so the customers can track the process, and I think it is really exciting to get an insight into such a profession.
You posted on Facebook in the past couple of days that one of the latest candidates is “Látszerész” (optician) at Üllői út. How do you pick the next pieces? Of course, the selection has shrunk much these days…
This was quite a lengthy process, starting with my walking into stores, on the façade of which I saw neon ads out of operation. Usually these are small stores that have been in operation for a long time, and are owned by an old owner. In many cases, the owners were quite distrustful – on the one hand, it looks odd if a young girl wants to repair their neon sign. On the other hand, there are cases when people simply want to dismantle the signs for themselves. And there were cases, unfortunately, when the owner was ready to take on the cooperation, but has retired in the meantime, and has rented out the premises, which means that their neon ad is covered and so renovation has lost its purpose… So we have been negotiating with the owners of the neon signs published on Facebook and the website (FÜRDŐ and Látszerész) for a long time now and they agreed to the renovation, so work can start soon in these projects.
CSŐ! is quite a hit! In the meanwhile, the Csemege poster is already sold out. What are your future plans?
Well, yes, luckily the project received a warm welcome, and many people purchased posters, so currently I am organizing the renovation of the above-mentioned FÜRDŐ neon sign – if all goes well, it will be all lit up again in the beginning of January. In addition, I would also like to expand the collection: there are several other neon signs that would look fantastic in the form of a poster. And of course I am always on the lookout for neon ads we can renovate, and I welcome any ideas or applicants for this!