Collected by celebrities including Sir Elton John, Sting and Boy George, Mark Sloper - known as Illuminati Neon - moves in the same circles as some of showbiz’s best-known names. His latest release, Elizabeth, celebrates Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's strength, beauty and 70 years of dedicated duty to our nation through his newest hand-embellished portrait, using signature punky Illuminati Neon feature
When British punk rock took over London’s cultural scene in the 1970s, the world turned up the volume and listened. Spearheaded by bands like The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sex Pistols and The Damned, this ear-splitting fusion of anarchy and expression defined a generation. Its working-class angst spoke to a young Mark, and after a chance encounter with the new wave musician Adam Ant at the age of just 11 led to him touring with the band, Mark became drawn to the punk subculture, eventually becoming close friends with some of the movement's pioneers and troubadours, including the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers.
A career in videography beckoned, and Mark went on to work as a cameraman and a director of photography for bands like the Police and Frankie Goes to Hollywood before joining the BBC. During his successful film career, Mark has directed and produced documentaries on Billy Fury, the Beatles, John Lennon, David Bowie, Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols and more. These legendary figures, along with his friend and fellow neon artist Chris Bracey, inspired Mark to create the Illuminati Neon brand.
Featuring punk-inspired imagery emblazoned with neon, vintage memorabilia and song lyrics, his original artworks have commanded the attention of the art world. In 2019, he was showcased at the prestigious Saatchi Gallery for their START Art Fair, which features some of the best emerging global talent.
In 2020, Mark was featured by the press when his punk portrait of Queen Elizabeth II received the royal approval from none other than the Queen herself! The matriarch is said to have enjoyed the artwork, but requested that her ‘Philip’ heart tattoo be changed to the royal crest - and Mark dutifully obliged. He says: “Allegedly, she burst out laughing but requested that it be changed so that it matched her bathrobes and slippers.”
Hand-painted in oils and acrylics at his studio in Shepherd’s Bush, London, his fluorescent creations are just as anarchic as their namesake. The handblown glass neon is formed using a centuries-old technique, echoing the exhilarating mixture of modern and classical that shaped the punk rock aesthetic.
Mark says: “Every piece tells a story about that transformative era: my experience of it, the people who made it and became my friends, and the honorary punks who personified its anarchy, chaos and rock ‘n’ roll long before the movement had a name.”
Shop Mark's new collection, The Art of Chaos, here.
All of Mark’s original artworks are hand-painted using acrylics or oils and he uses jewels and gold leaf as finishing elements to create complexity and make each piece unique. His handblown glass neon is formed using a centuries-old technique. This involves delicately bending the glass under a temperature of 500˚C and compressing gas within the tubes before using electric transformers to ignite it and create an organic glow. The true colour of neon is red, so Mark uses powder-coated neon tubes filled with argon (a chemical element) to produce a spectrum of colours.
Mark’s influences include the iconic neon artist Chris Bracey. He says: “I met him at God’s Own Junkyard (a huge emporium of vintage neon signs in London), and we swapped pictures. The art comes before the neon: I use the neon to express a statement and enhance the artwork beneath.”
For his original queen-themed pieces, Mark enjoys making the works look like paintings by the Old Masters by framing them ornately; they are then “punkified” by glowing neon. The queen’s head is foam mounted to give a 3D effect, and the background of newspaper headlines is washed in deep blue dripping oils. The crowns can have up to 2800 jewels!
Mark sources his flags from an antique dealer on Portobello Road in London, selecting those with genuine provenance and historical value. These include memorabilia from World War Two, along with flags from the UK Royal Palaces at the turn of the century. He explains: “I upscale the flags by mounting them to a modern board and sewing holes where necessary. Then I preserve them with fabric conditioners and glazes before mounting neon statements upon them. The ornate frames give a timeless feel.”
We visited Mark at his art space in Shepherd's Bush, London - home to one of the capital's most sought-after music scenes. He told us: "Whilst in my studio, you might bump into a real-life, foul-mouthed Sex Pistol. Good folks say ‘Oh, it’s such a cultural hub you’ve created.’ Bollocks: it’s organic chaos, pure and simple. This is my studio: I’m surrounded by art, mess and an explosion of neon colour.”
If you like reading about our artists' studios, don't miss our regular Studio Sessions feature in Fine Art Collector magazine. Catch up on previous issues here.
A homage to the punk rock genre, Illuminati Neon's debut collection with Castle Fine Art features a selection of large-scale, mixed media artworks and two limited edition prints.
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