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DIALOGUE: April Key | Contemporary Artist

"Villa Cabana" Ocean Drive

We talked with contemporary designer April Key about her works and production practice, who creates fascinating performances using color, light, and material by creating her works on the line between art, architecture, and light practice.

Who is April Key? Can you briefly tell us about yourself?

I’m an artist and designer, who currently resides between the Yorkshire (england) and Istan bul. My practice revolves around the intersection of art, architecture, and light. I’m originally from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, although I spent my formative childhood years growing up in Cyprus due to my parents occupation. In 2009, I embarked on my artistic journey studying Interior Architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art. Later, pursuing further education at Istanbul Teknik University. Istanbul captivated me, and I decided to stay for an additional ten years, eventually establish ing a studio there and fabricating my sculptures with my team.

Your works, in which you blur the boundaries of architecture, light, and art, offer a marvelous experience to the viewers. What kind of creative potential does combining these disciplines provide for you?

My work is an equal balance of the 3 disciplines you mentions, although the order in which they come into play whe approaching a new project is more systematic. The environment or ‘architecture’ has a beginning and central role in my artistic practice. I dedicate myself to crafting sculptures that not only respond to the external architectural land scape, but also create immersive installations that engage with the unique contexts of interior spaces. This word ‘immersive’ is where the light and art come in for me. Light being the ‘provokator’ to the eye, and the ‘art’ is crafting the visual language which speaks to them.

The Ocean Drive objects started with a packet of Kodachrome film found in an old market place in Istanbul. Can you tell us about this coincidental discovery and the story of your Ocean Drive objects?

I discovered an old pack of Kodachrome films at the ferikoy flea market in Istanbul back in 2018. I had always collected old film negatives, as I’m facinated with the memories people would choose to capture, and often they showed this vibrance and quirks that we miss in the present day. After digitizing these particular films you mentioned, they revealed a stunning narrative of a Turkish couple who moved to USA in the early 1950’s, bought a Cadillac and took it cruising through the majority of the states before settling in Miami. They were a mesmerizing collection of 120 film negatives, that became a huge inspiration to me. A lot of these films featured the architecture of Miami, and them being in kodachrome they were highly saturated in colour. My aim was to take these fading memories and immortalise them into strong statuesque 3D sculptures resembling an ever-growing modern-retro cityscape. Ocean Drive Objects are an ongoing continuing series of handblown neon sculptures, that I hope to keep building on them for a lifetime.

How do you utilize the physical properties of plexi and glass neon in your work? How do these materials contribute to your artistic expression? What challenges and creative possibili ties do these materials bring for you?

When I started making Ocean Drive’s, I was using plexi due to it’s durability and flex. This was an advantage to creating some soft form with clean edges. However I’ve since discovered its impact on the environment, and with a recent funding grant from the Arts Council Eng land, my work will continue to be developed using environmentally friendly and ergonomic methods, such as ceramic 3D printing and recycled plastics.


"The use of original glass neon is extremely important and prevalent material in my sculpture fabrication. I don’t think that will ever change, especially considering its environmentally friendly properties. It represents the craftsmanship that we relate with an older era, and in using it wanting to highlight the importance of a heritage craft process which to me embodies imagination, innovation and brilliance. It’s an endangered craft and I’m hoping through my work it will help keep it alive."


Can you tell us a little about your production process? Are you closer to analog or digital techniques?

When I started my studio I was more on the analog side, however over the last year my practice has evolved into this great blend of both. I love creating digital animations alongside my 3D physical works, it adds more dimension and imagination to the viewer. My overall production process starts with analog work, such as photography/sketching/painting, before creating them in digital 3D and playing with the form, and lastly making the 3D physical sculpture. So really its a full circle of all mediums.

Which of your works to date excites you the most?

I did a very ambitious installation back in March. It was an 86 piece, hanging neon tube installation within a ‘gin-gang’ barn. The building itself is heritage listed, sited at Charlton Hall, Northumberland (UK). Each glass tube handblown and then mounted individually onto metal batons. It was very labor intensive and as far as I know a unique one for neon glass making. The concept revolves around capturing the essence of a clear night sky in the area, where I utilize form to resemble ‘long exposure’ photography, highlighting the movements of light. And the colour selection inspired from Vincent Van Gogh’s own starry night!

Who are the names you follow with curiosity in this field or different disciplines?

I follow a lot of creatives with varied disciplines but the ones that grab my attention usually have as much as a love for colour and/or light as much as I do! Thomas Jackson, Ingo Maurer, Liz West, Fred Tschida, Thrush Holmes, James Turrell, Meagan Streader, Olafur Eliasson, I could go on!

Are you excited about the future, and what are your plans?

I’m very much looking forward to the new exploration of technogolgy and old heritage crafts together. Blending things such as glass and ceramic production with digital technologies. I think the outcomes from this will be very interesting and beneficial. Other upcoming projects include an immersive neon and music choreographed warehouse event (search for ‘Weils’ on resident advisor UK). This event will be the result of large-scale neon fabrication alongside music production, something I’m excited to explore. I’m also pre senting a 4-day masterclass at Neon Workshops (@neonworkshops), called ‘Render to Reality’, which will take the particpants through my process of project development and production.


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