This project began just post the coldest winter of my life thus far. It happened on a small strip of coastline in the South West of New York City, to be precise: on Coney Island outside Famous Nathan’s Hotdogs. The comforting tackiness of Coney Island and its bedazzled shoreline acts as a kind of Mecca for sign writers. Luminous, gaudy and smelling sweetly of doughnuts: Coney gave me exactly what I needed after almost three months away from English soil: a little piece of home. I was born by the sea, on the south coast of England. A breeding ground of anticipation coated in a sticky haze of candy floss in the summer months, and a desolate image of tourist abandonment come September.
My childhood was punctuated by its signage: from the hand painted carousel to the old penny arcade, I also clearly recall screaming with joy each and every time as we passed the hand painted sign on the city gates into Brighton and Hove. I felt immediately at home on Coney. Painted wall signs are so indigenous to coastal resorts because they unquestionably accept something a little bit unorthodox. They are a place where the frivolous is wholly acceptable, and encouraged. On Coney Island, ‘art and commerce work together’ (Powers, 2013, p. 12). These enormous, mischievous and unapologetic hand painted signs that adorn the coast may seem surplus and tacky to some, but embody everything that, for me, seaside culture is really about: irreverence. They are an advertisement of pleasure.
In that moment, like so many esteemed sign painters still pioneering the art of the brick and the brush who had set foot on Coney before me, I knew I wanted to know how to sign write.