If you’re walking down Elm Street in downtown Santa Cruz, be careful not to blink — you might miss the Felix Kulpa Gallery, located in a little nook right next to Streetlight Records. If you don’t blink, you will notice the gallery located at the end of a peculiar garden filled with sculptures made of metal, steel and even a phone booth. Right from the start, one might surmise this is not a typical gallery.

Robbie Schoen, the director of the Felix Kulpa Gallery, is hosting an art exhibit for the next two weeks that will be hard to replicate because of its unique components.

“It’s a show of abstract neon art,” Schoen said. “You won’t see anything recognizable in there.”

Upon entering the gallery, one is welcomed by warmth, due to both the sporadically placed space heaters and the overwhelming brightness emanating from the diverse pieces. Every wall and shelf is decorated with an abstract glass sculpture, either bent or blown. They were all filled with what looks like an endless stream of light in all colors imaginable.

Artist Brian Coleman, the man behind the living works of art simply titled “Neon Art,” described his experience with his unpredictable and scientific sculptures.

“I probably get it right about one-third of the time,” Coleman said. “It’s like painting — you can’t control everything.”

Photo by Mikayla McGill.
Photo by Mikayla McGill.

Coleman showcased his vibrant art in Santa Cruz for over 40 years, working through personal and economic troubles while creating works of art both visually striking and profitable, Schoen said.

“I sold about 11 of his pieces last year,” Schoen said. “They’re very unique and impressive.”

The quirky exterior of the tiny gallery drew in plenty of curious wanderers, such as a visitor from Prunedale, California who referred to himself as Dustin.

“It makes me feel like I’m in an 8-bit video game,” Dustin said, while looking at the pulsating light splashing his palms with color.

Even Schoen, who displayed Coleman’s neon exhibits in this gallery three times before, discussed his admiration of Coleman’s exhibits.

“I tend not to have favorites,” Schoen said, “but I really enjoy the pieces that have beads of light, kind of like blood pulsating or a heartbeat. It makes it seem alive.”

Photo by Mikayla McGill.
Photo by Mikayla McGill.

Coleman said the strenuous process of creating the art takes around three to four hours, depending on the size of the piece.

At the front of the gallery sits a stack of books detailing the long and complicated process of creating the installations. Making the art includes bending and blowing glass, as well as putting the right amount of gas into the tubes to make the neon glow. However, Schoen said the mechanics of the exhibits are less important than how the art evokes emotion.

Coleman agrees his work is a singular experience, hopefully drawing a large and interested crowd.

“It’s something you won’t ever see again,” Coleman said. “It’s really beautiful stuff — the contrast and colors in each piece. I just want to expose people to it.”

Both Coleman and Schoen expressed a sense of excitement toward the rising popularity of abstract neon art.

“This art is being reborn,” Schoen said. “[It returned] after being out of favor. I’m glad it’s back.”


The exhibit “Neon Art” can be found at the Felix Culpa Gallery on Elm Street in downtown Santa Cruz, adjacent to Streetlight Records, from now until Jan. 26