"NEONMAN" GEORGE ROTALO -
MAKING MAGIC OUT OF VINTAGE SIGNS!
If anyone tells me there isn't a creative scene in Fresno, I'd tell them they'd HAVE to be kidding me!
George Rotalo, for one, has spent the better part of the last 10 years turning old vintage signs into original brilliantly bright neon masterpieces.
In addition to being an artist, Neonman is also an accomplished writer/musician who previously led the popular 1980's new wave local band, The Clams.
Living in Fresno then moving to Los Angeles and then back to Fresno, George has learned alot about neon light creation and now owns his shop in downtown Fresno where he revamps signs and creates originals for assigned companies.
We stopped by Neonman's shop and discussed neon creation, The Clams and more!
S&S/Paul: How did you get the idea to start collecting neon signs?
Neonman: I saw a guy in Los Angeles do it. I went into his wherehouse and he had this bed with a headboard that had this giant neon sign above it. It was the coolest thing! He was living in there and I thought to myself, "I want to do that!"
When I moved back to Fresno, I started collecting old signs that shops would want to throw away and I took them and moved into my shop.
S&S/Raina: So you were lvinging here, then you moved to L.A., then back here?
Neonman: Everybody has that story! I joined a rock band, moved away...
S&S guest/JPJ: ...the best three part harmony rock and roll band to EVER come out of Fresno...The Clams!
Neonman: Yep. I sang. Screamed or whatever.
S&S/Raina: The Clams ha? Was it a New Wave band?
Neonman: Back then, exactly! That's exactly what they called it anyway.
S&S/Raina: What happened with that band? I heard you guys were really popular in the early 80's.
Neonman: Well, we said when we turned 30, we would break up if we still couldn't pay our rent. There were eight guys living in one apartment down there! So we broke up. All the contracts ended and the paperwork finalized at the right time.
Then I was like "Oh Sh**! I have to get a job!" Companies would ask what I did previously and all I could tell them was that I was in a band for ten years. I started looking around for work and decided to try out a class on neon at UCLA, where I learned the theory and bought my first set of fires to bend the neon.
I bought a bunch of glass and I lucked out so much because my boss was kind of insane and said, "well you could do it in my garage!" So I set up a neon shop in his garage.
There's two processes to neon. There's the bending part then there's putting the gas in. I didn't have the capability to put the gas in, it was really expensive, so I'd take them to this shop in San Fernando Valley.
They'd laugh at my stuff! We'd take it to the back of the shop and it would fall apart. But finally I got a few to work and evenutally they ended up hiring me there to answer the phones.
I got to watch the dudes who really knew what they were doing. These guys from El Salvador would watch T.V. while they were doing neon while I was over there trying to make a right angle! (laughs)
But that's where I really learned. Then I moved back to Fresno so I could afford to buy that second part to put the gas in. Plus, my family is here so....
S&S/Raina: Who do you make signs for?
Neonman: I do alot of commission stuff. Alot of the sign companies send clients to me to do custom signs. Alot of restoration of antiques as well. I also do commercial work for assigned companies. Like that giant "O" you see over there for Albertson's. Alot of these signs would have been thrown away.
S&S/Raina: Are you still doing any music?
Neonman: Oh yeah! Everyday! I don't know if it's a driving force or just a bad habit. I now have three songs recorded and some older songs by The Clams have been remastered.
I would still perform, acoustically though. It's just too hard to a group together.
S&S/Raina: It is! Everybody lags!
Neonman: Yeah, but when I had that band back then it was so much easier to get us together! I just don't get it.
George Rotalo was one of the artists featured in Fresno's monthly art exhibition, "Art Hop," in April--where he displayed his work and kept his shop opened for public viewing. If you'd like to find out more please visit: http://www.walkingupright.com/
Stop on by his shop located in downtown Fresno, California (Near the Amtrak train station)!
744 P Street 93721
Photos courtesy of JPJ