Navigators Art artists follow up Coney Street intervention with Helmsley Arts Centre and City Screen shows

Ana Alisia, Big Issue Seller, by Peter Roman, from the Navigators Art exhiibition at StreetLife

YORK collective Navigators Art will conclude the extended run of their mixed-media exhibition at StreetLife’s project hub in Coney Street, York, on Sunday.

The 13 artists taking part in Coney St Jam: An Art Intervention will hold a sale of works on Saturday, when artists will be on site to meet visitors from 11am to 5pm.

Meanwhile, seven Navigators Art artists are exhibiting at Helmsley Arts Centre from this week to March 4 in a follow-up to last spring’s City Screen Picturehouse exhibition, Moving Pictures, and a further exhibition is to be held at City Screen from March 19 to April 22.

Drawing inspiration from the city’s rich heritage and vibrant creative communities, the StreetLife project explores new ways to revitalise and diversify Coney Street, York’s premium shopping street but one blighted with multiple empty premises.

In a creative response to Coney Street’s past, present and future, Navigators Art have made new work designed to enhance and interpret StreetLife’s research for a project involving the University of York, City of York Council, Make It York, My City Centre, York Civic Trust, York Music Venues Network and Thin Ice Press.

On show are paintings, drawings, collages, photography, textiles, projections, music, poetry and 3D work. Entry to the exhibition space is accessible by one set of stairs. 

Taking part are Steve Beadle, figurative painting and drawing; Michael Dawson, mixed-media painting; Alfie Fox, creative photography; Alan Gillott, architectural and scenic photography; Oz Hardwick, creative photography, and Richard Kitchen, collage, abstract drawing, prints and poetry.

So too are Katie Lewis, textiles; Tim Morrison, painting and constructions; Peter Roman, figurative painting; Amy Elena Thompson, prints and tattoos; Dylan Thompson, composer; Simon AG Ellwood, sculptures, and Nick Walters, painting, video and sculpture.

“The arts are essential to public, cultural and personal wellbeing, despite efforts to ignore, undermine, underfund and generally devalue them to a shocking and highly unintelligent extent,” says Navigators Art co-founder Richard Kitchen.

“The arts should be central to every decision-making process in government and to education at every level.

Artwork by Amy Elena Thompson at StreetLife, Coney Street, York

“In the times we’re living through, we need creative solutions on a gigantic scale, and we need the sheer energy of the arts to help us survive and adapt. Those things aren’t going to be provided by bureaucracy or petty squabbling between political parties.

“I’d say give artists the kudos they deserve and let us help to turn things around. Pay us. Give us space to work in: let us use those empty buildings! Art isn’t just about old monuments. There are many living artists in York who could successfully take on social responsibilities because of the nature of what they do. We’re an asset to the city and should be valued and promoted as such.”

Richard continues: “Make Coney Street a flagship enclave for creatives and independent small retailers and an affordable, inspiring resource for the public to enjoy.

“That’s something we provided when we were based at Piccadilly [Piccadilly Pop Up] and we came to realise more and more how much that environment meant to people and benefited them. Offer that on a much wider scale and we’ll see real change for the better in society.”

Mixed-media artist Michael Dawson’s work is an homage to “all the words that poured out of Coney Street”, conjured since his move from Edinburgh to York last January. “I generally make dense, vibrant paintings and images on paper, wood, and canvas with mixed media, mainly acrylic and oil paint sticks,” he says.

“They often combine expressionistic, graphic and romantic elements that may be considered ‘outsider’ in style. Some are simple in layout, and some are busy and complex, but all have an air of the confessional; they are deeply personal.

“However raw the composition, I do always strive to bring poetry and aesthetics to the mix. My connection to the theme of ‘printing’ is ‘words’; words that once sprang from the Yorkshire Herald newspaper and words that continue to help define a new era for the area.” 

Peter Roman likes to “use everything” in his works, not only oils, acrylics, pastels and charcoal, but even a repurposed cupboard door and a chipboard for his painting of Big Issue seller Ana Alisia.

“It features the issue I bought from her that day, using paper from that edition, the one with Alan Ayckbourn on the front,” says Peter.

“Ana is always on the corner of Coney Street and Market Street, and she’s there pretty much every day. I moved out to Elvington three years ago, but when I come into York, she’s still there, and she’s always smiling.

“When I talked to her, she told me she’s originally from Rumania and now lives in Leeds.”

Torrents Willow Herald Speak, by Mike Dawson

Amy Elena Thompson, who studied illustration at York St John University, is presenting prints and tattoo designs rooted in the history of the now-demolished George Inn at Number 19, Coney Street, where Charlotte and Anne Bronte once stayed.

“I was interested in seeing how I could use designs from there in my own practice, given how decorative they were and how similar they were to tattoos, which I’m hoping to get into as a career, starting with an apprenticeship, working with a tattooist as my mentor to pass on the necessary knowledge.”

Amy’s research led her to learning about an artist who provided illustrations for coaching inns, depicting both the buildings and the life on the street.

Favouring 3D designs in her work, Amy uses calligraphy pens. “You have to think about the pressure you apply with them, like you do with a tattoo, but it gives  a natural flow to each work.”

Participating in the Moving Pictures II show at Helmsley Arts Centre are Kai Amafé, prints and 3D work; Steve Beadle, paintings and drawings; Michael Dawson, paintings; Richard Kitchen, prints and collages; Katie Lewis, textiles and paintings; Timothy Morrison, constructions, and Peter Roman, paintings.

“The title Moving Pictures is deliberately open to interpretation by the audience as well as the artists,” says Richard.

“Looking ahead, we hope to be working with York Archaeology in 2023 and are planning a series of themed events in and around the city.”

Coney St Jam: An Art Intervention by Navigators Art, at StreetLife Project Hub, 29-31 Coney Street, York, is open 10am to 5pm, Thursday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm, Sunday. Free entry.

Navigators Art’s Moving Pictures II exhibition runs at Helmsley Arts Centre until March 3; open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 10am to 3pm; Thursdays, 11am to 3pm, as well as during event opening times. Artist Richard Kitchen will be stewarding an 11am to 3pm opening on Sunday, January 15. Admission is free.