The Fine Artist Exploring Gender and Sex Through Neon Making

Meet Romily Alice, the Leeds-based conceptual artist developing her ideas of gender and sex through neon light-making.

What motivates you as a creative?

I’m excited about the current climate for emerging creatives.  It feels as if there are a lot of very cool and important conversations happening around sexuality, LGBGTQ+ rights, race, pornography, the gender pay gap, everyday sexism, gender roles, modern feminism etc. The internet has created a space where people can find each other and start to effect real change through social media and awareness raising. That kind of thing gets me really excited. I think art and creativity has incredible potential to challenge and question the beliefs that we hold as a culture; it can be a way to reach people who might not otherwise think about some of these issues. That’s the goal for me really, to make work that helps to contribute to those conversations.  

Your work is inspired by gender and the post-internet age, what does gender mean to you?

That’s a big question!! I guess when I look at gender in my artwork, what I’m thinking about is how our culture uses gender and gender stereotypes and trying to unpick that. We have come to use the term gender as a signifier of someone’s sex when the two things are actually very different: someone’s sex is initially defined at birth by their biological make up, whereas gender is a socially constructed idea that attributes certain characteristics to each sex. Gender stereotypes are incredibly frustrating, limiting and damaging. If you start the sentence “Men should be…” or “Women should be…” you will get a pretty good idea of the gender stereotypes you’ve internalized from your culture. I’m excited about a future where we’ve dismantled some of that conditioning and are able to let people identify and exist in whatever way they feel most comfortable.

What is The Neon Portraits Project?

The Neon Portraits Project is a series of work where I take anonymously donated nude selfies and turn them into neon sculptures. The project started when I was thinking about the history of neon and how tied up it is with the signage of the sex industry. I was trying to think of a way to subvert the classic neon strip club signs into something more in line with the female gaze. The idea is to take this very mainstream image of a “pin-up girl” and recreate it with real women’s bodies. We are bombarded with so many images of undressed women that are almost all of this one body type, and even then they are often photoshopped into fantasy land. This creates a really negative environment for women where the message is that there is only one kind of beauty, a kind which is largely unattainable. That’s a shitty situation and leads to women feeling ashamed and embarrassed of their bodies. I wanted to create a series of work that celebrates the uniqueness and diversity of the female form.

The internet has created a space where people can find each other and start to effect real change through social media and awareness raising.

Romily Alice

You’re originally from London, what brought you to Leeds? How do the creative scenes compare?

I came up to Leeds to study at Leeds College of Art and I’ve got one more year up here. There is an awesome creative scene in Leeds with loads of exciting projects going on across music, theatre, art, publishing etc. I’ve found it a lot easier to feel a part of a creative community up here, I guess because of the size of the city – the scene is pretty close knit so it’s easy to get involved and feel connected to other creatives. I will always love London for the seemingly unlimited amount of culture available to you on any day of the week, but Leeds has totally won a place in my heart!

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?

I currently have two pieces on show at ‘Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness, Only Light Can Do That,’ at Lights of Soho on Brewer street, that’s on till the 29th of October and features around 30 light artists so it’s a super cool spectrum of different kinds of work. Then I’ve got some work at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea with Jamm Gallery which runs from the 20th-23rd of October.