Beneath the Bright Lights: Neon Artist Todd Sanders Leads Tour of Bentonville Signage
Famed neon artist Todd Sanders visited Bentonville to lead a special Neon Art Stroll, highlighting his works on public display everywhere from local businesses to alleyways.
The stroll, sponsored by Downtown Bentonville Inc., Arvest Bank, Runway Group and Visit Bentonville, brought nearly 100 art enthusiasts to the lobby of the Arvest Bank in Downtown Bentonville, a fitting use for a branch that sees neon as an important part of its own history.
“The use of neon was incorporated into our branches in the early 90’s as a nod to the retail environment, while providing a warm and inviting feeling to our branch locations,” said Arvest Bank Marketing Manager Kyle Roberts. “So to host a legendary neon artist, and to introduce members of our community to his work in such a personal way, really felt full circle for us.”
The tour took attendees to several of Sanders’ pieces throughout Downtown Bentonville and beyond, where the artist talked about his motivations in design and crafting, as well as his methods.
Standing beneath the bright red light of his own art in a pair of cowboy boots, Sanders embodied the slice of Americana he works to convey in his signage. He spoke with a smile about Bentonville, a place that in some sense represents his public portfolio—on display in a way it is nowhere else in the country.
“Bentonville presents a rare opportunity to see my pieces publicly,” Sanders said. “I like to call myself a neon archaeologist, because all of these signs have a history, and that’s on display here.”
The history of neon is a storied one. At its inception, it was part advertisement and part beacon—a nod to road-weary travelers, a promise of fun, and a statement in its own right. It hearkens to a period in American history when cars were cool, and its roots are part popular culture and part commerce.
The archaeology comparison is fitting for someone as driven by preservation and meaning as Sanders is.
“I call neon the first graffiti,” Sanders said outside The Holler, standing under an arrow emblazoned ‘This Is It.’ “It was making a statement. It was street art.”
More than just statement-makers, Sanders’ pieces are handcrafted, hand painted and composed from primarily found materials—roadside relics that represent an important part of history, but have something to say about the future, too.
“A lot of my work is a commentary on our nature. The Modern piece, for example, is a Sputnik,” Sanders said, referencing the Modern sign hanging downtown. Then, gesturing to a nearby cellphone, he continued: “These are the Sputniks of 2018—and the point is just that—modern is fleeting, because it’s constantly changing.”
This special neon stroll was a presentation of Downtown Bentonville Inc, Visit Bentonville and Arvest Bank. For more information on art initiatives in Downtown Bentonville, follow DBI, Visit Bentonville and Arvest Bank on Facebook and Instagram.
Photos via Meredith Mashburn & Michael Drager
Blog Written by TJ Stallbaumer