Inside The Fluorescent World Of Electric Ladyland

This article was originally featured in tmrw magazine #13.

Amsterdam is famous for being a city where you can see and get anything your heart desires. The local government’s liberal opinion on sex and drugs in addition to being a well-respected city of culture attracts swathes of tourists from all over the world every year. Having visited Amsterdam twice as of writing, I’m especially aware of the number of weird and wonderful museums the city has to offer. With the city’s museums boasting themes as various as sex and prostitution to chess and cheese a visitor can spend just a few euros to learn all they can about a topic in between trips to the bars and coffee shops.

After already visiting some of the usual museums in our first visit my friend and I were looking into places to go on our second trip. After googling different places my man Sam came along a museum that was a little different. Sharing a name with the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s final album and focusing on fluorescent art, Electric Ladyland seemed the perfect choice. After a short walk to the museum, we joined a small group and met the owner of the gallery, an American called Nick Padalino. After a change of footwear (you have to wear special slipper like shoes to avoid damage to the art) you climb some of the steepest stairs in the city the group were now in the middle of the museum. Looking round, Nick had curated quite a collection of fluorescent artefacts as well as created some of its own. Although the collection stands out, everyone that has visited Electric Ladyland will have come away thinking one thing shone the most – Nick Padalino. Blown away by his charisma as well as in-depth knowledge of the subject I wanted to learn more about the man as well as the history of the museum so vowed that one day I would interview them. Thanks to TMRW I got the chance to do just that.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957 a young Nick was surrounded by art. “My aunt was a commercial artist and lived downstairs from my family and nurtured my love for art. For as long as I can remember I have been drawing and have had a deep fascination for colour. Growing up in the 1960s, fluorescent colours were all around, in advertising and posters. I had already had a deep love for colour, but fluorescent colour was like another dimension added. I then began using fluorescent colours in 1969 after seeing and buying black light posters and a black light. This developed into experimenting with very cheap poor-quality fluorescent ‘poster-paints’ and using clear water-based glue as a medium to try and prevent these 1960s Fluorescent poster-paints from falling off the painting and onto the floor the next day when they had dried”.

Already well versed in the creation of art at such a young age, Nick endeavoured to further himself artistically by surrounding himself in the work that had gone before him as well as a completing degree in Fine Art and a degree in Graphic Design in the late 1970s. Although colour had always been his main inspiration, the work of the masters before him were also cited as influences on his creative output; “I have many inspirations, but the most important inspirations for me have been Jackson Pollock and Paul Gauguin. Jackson Pollock because he went further than any other artist in my opinion, and Paul Gauguin because of his use of colour as the subject point of the painting - colour was the most important part of Gauguin’s Art, and remained that way until he died in 1903. Their focus on art is something that inspires me. Gauguin for example was what they term today the ‘Proto-Hippie’ - leaving his wife and children and good paying job in the stock exchange in Paris to go to Tahiti and paint his dream. Michelangelo is another inspiration due to his focus on his craft, he was an artist driven all his life by his art until nearly 90. As well as visual artists, I have to add the musicians Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles as major inspirations in my life a well”.

Although there is evidence the effect these artists had on Nick’s work when you visit the museum, citing the guitar God Jimi Hendrix it is pretty apparent – as aforementioned the museum shares a name with the final studio album Hendrix recorded and released before his death.

The album was released in 1968, when Nick was young but the album obviously had a profound effect, as 18 years later that Nick along with his partner Michèle Delage opened “Electric Lady” Art Gallery. Then exactly 12 years later, April 19th 1999, opened “Electric Ladyland – The First Museum of Fluorescent Art”. As Nick goes on to discuss, the idea to open the museum was to extend his art and make it interactive. “[The museum] was actually brought about by the space needed to create a Fluorescent “Participatory” Environment that could be physically entered by visitors. The Fluorescent “Participatory” Environment is a piece I worked on for 7 years and one I created right in the museum. It took three years for construction with plastics and industrial materials being used on the structure of the environment itself, and a further 4 years was required to mix up hundreds of litres of fluorescent and phosphorescent paint by hand and then to apply it using various techniques including high temperature heat application. This is a 32 cubic meter art environment that is physically entered, and gives the opportunity for the audience to “participate” in the creation of art in a small way by having the ability to choose buttons to press in the environment, which then cause fluorescent minerals and paint to react. The museum is split into two sections, with one half being used for the FPE and the other is used for demonstrations. I have collected about 1000 kilos of natural Fluorescent minerals from all over the planet. As 19 year old Robert Switzer, the inventor of fluorescent paint in 1933, and his 17 year old brother Joseph Switzer – the “Day-Glo” brothers – discovered that when these minerals are added to basic chemicals they create what we know as fluorescent paint”.

It is when Nick is discussing the beginnings of fluorescent paint and the natural minerals that began the process that you see him truly enthused about the subject and if you ever have any questions, he is sure to have the answer thanks to his many years of research. Although due to the city’s history of art as well as deep rooted interest in stepping out of the norms, it’s certainly a little strange to see someone from New York open a museum across the world, although to Nick it seemed the obvious choice.

“Amsterdam is the only place I have ever lived where the people leave you alone! The Dutch people are interested in art, but also take particular interest in leaving each other in peace. There is very little aggression or violence in Amsterdam, and in short ‘you can live your dream’ without any thought of social interference or trouble in general. If the people in Amsterdam don’t like what you create in Art, Music, or any other area of creation, they do not make crude or abrasive comments as in most other parts of the world, but accept it as Art. I came to Amsterdam the first time in 1984 to visit my dream museum, the ‘Van Gogh Museum’. After only about 5 minutes of being in Amsterdam, I decided I wanted to live here the rest of my life. I made that decision 32 years ago!”

Anyone that has visited Amsterdam are likely to share Nick’s sentiments that it is a place like no other, just like its museum. Both the museum and the city it’s based in share a number of similarities but the main one being they are both hold beautiful and memorable treasures that everyone should experience at least once. Also after going to Electric Ladyland Museum, you’ll never look at rocks the same way again.

Daniel Eggleston