Why York city centre is all at sea as Tom Lewis’s neon art takes over coffee shop

Tom Lewis’s Neon Beasts: Adding a Splash Of Colour to the corner of Feasegate and Market Street, York, in Art Of Protest Projects’ latest city-centre installation

SOMETHING fishy is happening to York city centre.

The reason is Splash Of Colour: Neon Beasts, a street art installation that is making waves amid the throng of Christmas shoppers and night-time party people.

York urban art team Art Of Protest Projects has curated this “exciting space for residents and tourists to come and soak up” at the corner of Feasegate and Market Street.

Commissioned by the York Business Improvement District (BID), the installation features artist Tom Lewis’s Neon Beasts in a project designed to bring animation and theatre to the streets, together with footfall and smiles to a deprived part of the city centre.

Before: The empty former coffee shop

Art Of Protest Projects director Jeff Clark says: “The high streets have suffered in the UK since the Covid pandemic hit and many businesses have struggled to stay open. By targeting a specific area in York with a concentrated amount of empty shop-front windows, our mission was to uplift the streets and breathe new life into them, making the space an interesting place to walk past, even if people cannot walk inside.

“The result has been fantastic as the tired and unused streets have been transformed by an infusion of colour and energy, but also with a deeper meaning behind the art.” 

Splash of Colour: Neon Beasts utilises multiple forms of artistic media and aquatic features, designed to navigate people from Coney Street to Parliament Street in a curiously colourful way.

After: Tom Lewis’s shop-frontage conversion into a street art installation

The Art Of Protest Projects team asked whimsical Lewes artist Tom Lewis to bring” iconic scenery into focus that relates back to York’s history and relationship with its waterways”, using vibrant colours and imagery to create a modern piece of street art.

On the frontage of a former coffee shop, the team has covered the space from top to bottom with a mural wrap, painting the adjacent pillars to reveal ocean waves and applying floor art and colourfully painted benches, providing a place for people to stop and take in the beautiful scenery.

Look out for an information board that gives details of the individual sea creatures for passers-by, complemented by a QR code that leads to more info on the project and also connects it to the charity Blue Marine Foundation, acting as a call to action for people to learn more about the crisis brought on by overfishing.

Installation artist Tom Lewis

At night, the installation takes on an added radiance with ultraviolet lighting, illuminating the space and transforming the Neon Beasts into an even brighter and more impactful feature.

At first, the installation’s aquatic, underwater theme may seem unusual to residents and tourists alike, but Art Of Protest Projects communication director Brenna Allsuch says: “Almost every street that you walk down in the city of York is somehow linked to the history of the seas. The waters have provided a source of food, a pathway to reach foreign lands, a boundary divide to separate during war, and a travel network to expand the globe as we know it.

“York has had a plethora of historical importance, from its strong ties to the Romans where it saw incredible prosperity, to the years of struggling through the plague. Whether it be the Romans, the Saxons, the Vikings or during the mediaeval era, through to the more recent years of the Industrial Revolution, York has taken much of its trade and wealth from the seas.”

The information board for Tom Lewis’s installation

Jeff adds: “It’s always a wonderful feeling to be able to create a successful project, from concept and planning to full-scale delivery – and to see the instant effect that urban art has on people’s facial expressions and moods is a real privilege.

“We’ve done so many projects over the years with the intention of uplifting people’s spirits, including our last project with the York BID, the Guardians Of York, during the Covid pandemic, so to help bring a little bit of colour and joy to what was becoming quite a sad and unused thoroughfare in York was a really exciting opportunity to deliver on.

“We took an interesting concept, and by utilising the talent of artist Tom Lewis, we brought it to life. We’re super-proud of the result and the new space for people to come sit and relax.”

“We’re super-proud of the result and the new space for people to come sit and relax,” says Art Of Protest Projects director Jeff Clark

York artist Rosanna Johnson enthuses: “The high-street makeover by Art Of Protest Projects and Tom Lewis has done wonders for the street’s atmosphere. It’s so great to see it revamped and lit up with neon colours and aquatic shapes. I think young people especially will enjoy the feature. York needs more of this.”

Brenna concludes: “Intended for all ages and demographics, Splash Of Colour is a place to stop, to ponder, to laugh, to photograph, to share, to enjoy.” The installation will remain in place for several months. 

“Full-scale delivery”: A shark in the dark in Tom Lewis’s Neon Beasts installation