What’s in store for 2021? “Aliens, man, definitely aliens,” warns York Open Studios artist and B-movie buff Lincoln Lightfoot

Day Of The Dinosaurs, oil painting, work in progress, by Lincoln Lightfoot

INFLUENCED by the gloriously ridiculous B-movie imagery of the Fifties and Sixties, York artist Lincoln Lightfoot questions what might be in store for 2021.

You can see his humorously absurdist answers when 28-year-old Lincoln makes his York Open Studios debut this summer, after the 20th anniversary show was moved from April to July 10/11 and 17/18.

His digital-print images and oil paintings take the broad theme of surreal encounters with beasts that appear in recognisable locations: not so much King Kong climbing the Empire State Building in New York as a tentacled dayglo Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse attacking a bridge in York.

Born in Hartlepool in 1992, the son of a school head of art & design, Lincoln was always fascinated by art, heading to York St John University to study Fine Art, whereupon the city became the centre of his work for those three years.

It continues to occupy that top spot in his art chart, his digital prints and paintings stalking York’s streets and passageways, our heritage resonating in the present.

Here, Lincoln discusses his name, his art, B-movies, 21st century Surrealism and his love of York with CharlesHutchPress.

York artist Lincoln Lightfoot: Making his York Open Studios debut in July

How did your wonderfully alliterative name Lincoln Lightfoot come about?
I have an American mother from Chicago, which people are often quick to assume is the reason for my name (Abe Lincoln). However, it was my father who came up with it.

“‘Lincoln’ is Old English, meaning ‘the place by the pool’, and I was born in Hartlepool, which has the same meaning. My Dad loves to explain this…and gets an eye roll from me!”

What were your first artistic steps?
“When I was very young, as a family we would go to the beach and this would normally mean one thing: sandcastle building. We would build these embarrassingly big sandcastles with huge trenches around them.

“I was always fascinated by art. I loved to create and still do. My Dad was the head of art & design at my secondary school in Middlesbrough. This often meant staying late in the art department with my younger brother, creating and developing our GCSE and A-level Fine Art coursework. We’d make fantasy towers and giant killer plants. Exciting topics devised by my father.”

Describe those facilities…

“It was a large art department with four purpose-built art classrooms and a vast variety of exciting materials with exciting visual stimuli. There were masks from different cultures, stained-glass panels, tapestries, machine bits, musical instruments, giant shells, tropical plants and stuffed animals. No wall was left bare.”

“I’m in awe of York Minster, the intricate beauty of the architecture and our overwhelming insignificance next to it,” says Lincoln Lightfoot. This work is entitled Minster Flypast

What was your first experience of York?
“My grandparents used to take me and my brother on caravan trips. I remember staying at Rowntree Park a number of times. I loved the untouched feel of the city, the idea that things within the city had been there for hundreds of years. I still can’t get enough of it.

“Every time I’m in town, I see something new, something that fascinates me. I’m often left saying, ‘How come I haven’t seen that before?’.

“I’m in awe of York Minster, the intricate beauty of the architecture and our overwhelming insignificance next to it.”


Why did you choose to study at York St John University?

“I initially applied to Edinburgh School of Art and Glasgow School of Art. At the age of 18, I was quite confident in my artistic ability. Probably too confident, seeing as I had decided there was no need to do a foundation year prior to applying. I didn’t put enough effort into my art portfolio and didn’t make the cut.

“The idea was to poke fun at the absurdity of mankind,” says Lincoln Lightfoot, explaining why he dressed as a ringmaster at the York Wheel . “I held a hamster cage with a hamster in it and talked nonsense to anyone who asked me what I was doing”

“My next choice was York St John. I’d chosen the university because I loved the city and I knew they offered a Fine Art course. Other than this, I didn’t know too much about the university itself, but I quickly realised I’d made a great decision and what followed were some of the best years of my life.

“York St John was a second home and a uniquely tightly-knit community. I joined the YSJ Basketball Club. I grew socially more than anything else, while falling more in love with the city. I enjoyed its history, its beautiful quad and ‘Archie’s days’ [a YSJ tradition at the end of every semester].”

When and where did you first exhibit in the city?
“After initial exhibitions at York St John’s gallery spaces in my first year, inspired by the art of Futurist Performance, I dressed as a ringmaster in front of the Yorkshire Wheel: a giant Ferris wheel located in front of the Principal York hotel (from 2011 to 2013).

“The idea was to poke fun at the absurdity of mankind. I held a hamster cage with a hamster in it and talked nonsense to anyone who asked me what I was doing.”

 
What medium did you choose for your final project at York St John?

“Performance Art. In my final year, the York St John basketball team, a bunch of 6ft-plus young men, including myself, dressed up in black suits, with bowler hats and briefcases.

Towards The Metaphysical, a performance art piece by Lincoln Lightfoot, for his final-year project at York St John University

“We covered our faces with women’s black tights and did a ‘work commute’ at 7am. Flooding the city with faceless businessmen and getting escorted out of York railway station by the police for obvious reasons.

“This happening was documented and used for my 3rd Year degree show. My businessmen flooded the opening night, to the annoyance of my other peers.”


Where and when did you last exhibit in the city?
“In Summer 2019, I exhibited a series of surreal prints at Spark:York. Prior to that, the work had made a debut at the Fossgate Social.

“I currently have the series of prints adorning the walls of Rehab Piccadilly and a giant Godzilla painting over the top of a Tour de Yorkshire poster in Micklegate Social.”

What does the city of York conjure in your mind, if you had to sum it up?
“It’s a story-book city, conjuring up tales of the past. Walking through its streets, your creative mind can just let loose and go to work. It’s not hard to imagine incredible things happening there because they already have.”

They say that if you don’t leave York after three years, the city will have you in its grip and you will never say goodbye! True or a load of jackson pollocks?

“Completely true. I am testament to the statement.”

Artist Lincoln Lightfoot with his Tour de Yorkshire artwork, Godzilla, at Micklegate Social, York

York has to live with the chain of history around its neck: your work makes us look at it in a different way in the tradition of artists being outsiders. Discuss…

“Lots of artists are drawn to the city as a subject because of its historical architecture and picturesque views. It’s a path well-trodden. I’m currently playing around with a series of giant oil paintings that would strive to be similar to the style of [English Romantic painter, illustrator and engraver] John Martin’s biblical end-of-the-world scenes. I guess in some ways, if executed with a high enough level of skill, they could be seen to poke fun at high art.

“I love the stories of John Martin’s work; for contemporaries it would be like a modern-day visit to the cinema, maybe even more emotive. People would scream before them in horror. (Ironically his brother, ‘Mad Martin’, was a non-conformist who set fire to York Minster on February 1 1829). 

“People often go in search of escapism, fascinated by unconventional ideas or elaborate fantasy worlds. That’s what makes B-movie poster art so attractive. To strip it back to a recognisable location can only make it more appealing.” 


Is that what drew you to your distinctive subject matter of imposing B-movie imagery on familiar York landmarks?

“The city of York has such impressive views to inspire thousands of artists already. I’m fascinated by myths, legends, UFOs and other sightings of strange creatures; with these unlikely creatures in mind, I became consumed with surreal thoughts.

Minster Crafts, as depicted by B-movie enthusiast Lincoln Lightfoot

“My friends galvanised my thinking and would message me, ‘Hey, have you thought of this, what if….?!’. It ultimately brings you back to this child-like state of excitement and wonder.

“I find what makes it enjoyable for the public is if both landmark and mythical creature are well-known. I love it when my art gives people that moment of ‘closure’. In particular, when kids drag their parents over, pointing, ‘Look! Look!’. I sometimes think they get it more than the adults.” 

Which Fifties and Sixties’ B-movies have inspired you and why?

“My home in York’s South Bank is full of key inspirations to my work. The first B-movie poster to grab my attention was Attack Of The 50ft Woman by Reynold Brown. I saw it in a vintage shop when I was in London. It was an A1 copy. My Attack Of The 50ft Rubber Ducky! paid homage to that.

“I love most of them, though my girlfriend has put a limit on the amount I’m allowed to hang around our house!

“I have Invasion Of The Saucer-Men and La Terra Contro I Dischi Volanti, which translates as something like The Earth Against Flying Saucers. These have inspired my own versions of Alien-style invasions.

Inspired by Reynold Brown: Attack Of The 50ft Rubber Ducky, by Lincoln Lightfoot

“I also love the 1996 film Mars Attacks! I have an It Came From Beneath The Sea poster, which inspired my Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse! and The Corn Exchange Creature!, a giant coiling, twisting centipede.

“Then, of course I have the Attack Of The 50ft Woman poster, so I have now reached the limit of wall-space.”

What else is filling that space?

“David Blaine’s Beneath The Below poster; a Chicago World’s Fair from 1933, and an antique original tourist poster from 1907, Healthy Hartlepool, which reminds me of the golden age of North Eastern Railways.

“I love the poster for From Hell It Came, a movie about a giant killer tree. The movie trailer is hilarious. As Art & Design department lead at a school in Sunderland, it links to a GCSE project I do called Beware Of The Plants. A design entertainment crafts style project that ends with an installation of terrifying, organic, plant-like creatures in the school’s greenhouses.”

The Corn Exchange Creature!, wherein a centipede goes on the rampage in Leeds, by Lincoln Lightfoot

Far too many happenings/events/experiences are described as surreal but your work absolutely fits the description. How would you define surreal/surrealism today?

“Contemporary Surrealism addresses people’s worries and stresses and provides an escape into an alternative world and helps us cope with anxiety in safe and sometimes humorous ways in these times of isolation and stress.

“It differs from the pioneers of the 1920s and 1930s with the advances in film and graphic media. We have the tools to blur reality with fantasy even more convincingly.

“Freudian psychology, Giorgio de Chirico and Romanticism originally fed the ideas of the Surrealist movement, but the real spark to the zeitgeist seems to have been the horrors of World War One and born out of Italian Futurism.”

You create art of the absurd, the ridiculous, your art being playful yet playing on our worst nightmares too. Discuss…

“I’ve always believed that through the consumption of art, we can deal with nightmares and perceived dangers safely. As children, we confront and make sense of a dangerous world through fairy stories and nursery rhymes.

“Young people wish to be told of danger through anecdote and myth in a safe space. I attempt to continue this addiction and appeal to adults too.”

A spaceman adrift in York: Land Of The Lost, by Lincoln Lightfoot

You say “high art co-exists with popular culture” in your work. Does that make it 21st century Pop Art? It certainly makes it eye-catching to shoppers…

“Yes, it sits within the definition of Pop Art traditions, which, of course, began in London 1957, before New York. Ultimately, the smaller works use the ideas and graphicacy of Pop, though without advertising.

“I’m moving into more traditional techniques with oil on canvas that seek to blur the boundaries.”

How have you coped with life in Lockdown x 3? Has it had an impact on your work in these fear-filled times?

“Life in lockdown has been kind when contrasting with others. It has afforded me time to reflectand take stock of where I might be going as an artist and art educator.

“Walking around York, seeing the streets and alleyways otherwise populated with people, now deserted, has reinforced my practice in a profound way. Many of the documented photographs I took could lead to future ideas.

“Initially, it’s a time where the word ‘surreal’ may be justified. I’m still expecting to wake up in March 2020.”

You have been told: The Truth Is Out There!, by Lincoln Lightfoot

Does your own artwork influence your teaching of Art & Design in Sunderland?

“I’m creating art as much as possible and often use it to inspire my students, developing exciting and enriching programmes of study.”

Why did you want to take part in York Open Studios? What opportunities does it present to you?

“I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. It’s a fantastic opportunity to platform artwork and to meet new people. Only now am I happy with a body of exciting work and have space to exhibit it.” 

More than 140 artists and craft-makers will be opening their doors for York Open Studios. How do you rate the York art scene?

“York’s art scene is forever growing, with an increasing number of creative spaces and events across the city. It’s alive, vibrant and has everything for anyone, regardless of age, background and appetite.”

“Watch out for more fantastical beings invading York’s ancient places,” warns Lincoln Lightfoot, creator of Micklegate Mayhem, Christmas

What’s coming next for you in the art world?

“Watch out for more fantastical beings invading York’s ancient places.

I’m now working on larger-scale oil paintings that use chiaroscuro not associated with Pop Art, but use blending and glazing. The best of these will be made into Giclee limited-edition prints.”

One final question: your York Open Studios profile says you “question what might be in store for 2021?”. So, Lincoln, what exactly is in store for 2021 for you and the rest of us?
“Aliens, man, definitely aliens. There are more influential individuals making statements and releasing information by the day.” 

Lincoln Lightfoot will be opening his doors at 118 Brunswick Street, South Bank, York, for York Open Studios 2021 on July 10/11 and July 17/18, 10am to 5pm. For more information on Lincoln, go to lincolnlightfoot.co.uk; for details of all York Open Studios artists, visit yorkopenstudios.co.uk.

Bridge attack: The Creature From The Bottom Of The Ouse!, by Lincoln Lightfoot


What does a composer do in lockdown when the world stops? David Lancaster wrote a digital premiere for 120 musicians

David Lancaster: Darkness into light in his world premiere of Eclipse at HIF Weekender

DAVID Lancaster, cutting-edge composer, York Late Music projects manager and head of York St John University’s music department, is back on course for the new academic year in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Going smoothly so far, but all fingers are crossed,” he says, when asked “How is the new term going?”.

“It’s the start of term like no other, and we’re aware that we could have an outbreak and/or be shut down at a moment’s notice, which does tend to push up the anxiety levels! Still, here goes for week 2.”

A university term “like no other” for Dr Lancaster continues the unpredictable path of a start-stop-restart year like no other, when all the usual channels of performance were removed overnight under the lockdown strictures imposed on March 23.

Out with the old order, in with the new, as David’s commission for Harrogate International Festivals, Eclipse, became the conversation piece of the hastily arranged inaugural virtual HIF Weekender, when 10,000 people from 60 countries viewed the online line-up of free arts events, exclusive clips and highlights from the July 23-26 programme showcased on BBC Radio 4.

David’s digital commission came to fruition against the stultifying background of lockdown. “The lockdown has proved to be a difficult time for all musicians, particularly for freelance performers, and the members of bands and choirs unable to work together,” he says.

“The impact on composers – who often work alone, in any case – has been significant for different reasons. All performances of my pieces since mid-March have been postponed or cancelled, and the uncertainties surrounding concerts have meant that performers, venues and festivals have been reluctant to make any firm plans for the future.”

Commissions dried up and deadlines, so important to David in providing motivation to complete pieces, disappeared. “Most of all, I miss the interaction and discussion with other musicians that takes place in planning meetings and rehearsals, and in the post-mortem after performances, when so many ideas are nurtured and developed,” he says.

Hence his delight – if trepidation too – at being approached by Harrogate International Festivals’ chief executive, Sharon Canavar, and board member Craig Ratcliffe, director of music at St John Fisher Catholic High School, with a “really great idea” for a new piece.

“Put simply, they wanted a short, fanfare-like composition for brass and percussion that could be recorded remotely by many players, locally, nationally and worldwide, that could be re-assembled in the studio to make a ‘live’ performance,” says David.

“Local brass bands would be contacted, and trumpet virtuoso Mike Lovatt – a  good friend of the Harrogate festival – had very kindly agreed to record a solo track.”

Lovatt was a stellar signing, being professor of trumpet at the Royal Academy of Music and principal trumpet for both the John Wilson Orchestra and BBC Big Band.

Explaining the choice of title for his world premiere, David says: “We chose Eclipse to represent the idea that the Harrogate festival couldn’t take place this year – the concert halls, theatres and community venues had ‘gone dark’ – but that next year, the light would return and the festival and all its bright lights could resume.”

David wrote quickly, finishing the piece in only five days.  “Oddly enough, I had previously composed a fanfare for a ceremonial occasion at the university – the installation of  Reeta Chakrabarti as the new Chancellor – which had been postponed right at the start of lockdown, so I was able to draw upon and develop some of the rhythmic ideas from that piece in Eclipse,” he says.

“There was lots of material on my ‘cutting-room floor’ that I could rifle through, re-cycle and add to for the Harrogate festival piece. I was working on other things at the time, so writing Eclipse was a very pleasant interruption.”

Lockdown and the strange new world of Covid-19 2020 had an impact on David’s composition. “Obviously we all think about then time we are going through, and one of the reasons for being a composer is to get a better understanding of the world we live in as we hope to get back to some kind of normal when we can return to contact,” he says.

Mike Lovatt: Playing trumpet as one of 120 musicians assembled remotely to perform David Lancaster’s Eclipse for Harrogate International Festivals’ HIF At Home festival

Eclipse “isn’t really a conventional fanfare,” suggests David. “I suppose there’s a hint of melancholy that reflects the current mood, but the ending is triumphant, and I hope that will serve us well when this piece is performed live, in front of an audience, when Harrogate International Festival returns in 2021,” he says.

“It would be lovely if Eclipse could complete its journey from darkness to light that way, when things have been so gloomy.”

More than 120 musicians joined forces remotely to record tracks, including players from Opera North, West End musicals and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, complemented by brass players from Qatar, Canada, the United States, South Korea and New Zealand, together with local brass bands and orchestras.

“I was so pleased that so many people got involved in putting Eclipse together,” says David. “When Harrogate International Festival first commissioned it, their intention was to use local brass bands from Ripon, Knaresborough and Harrogate, and then we started getting top players from West End musicals, Opera North and the RPO, with Craig using his contacts to draw in so many musicians.”

Eclipse subsequently was live-streamed for HIF At Home at 6pm on July 24 and made available on the festival website from the end of July.

Meanwhile, serendipitously for David, the new, alienating working conditions necessitated by the pandemic have chimed with a creative project he had in mind already. “Coronavirus has forced musicians to adapt to remote working, often making music independently of one another. Ironically, this is something I had been thinking about in 2019, long before lockdown,” he says.

“I wanted to explore asynchronous rhythmic elements in my music: passages in which players are not governed by a single, unifying pulse, but have opportunities to move apart from one another, to play independently, either individually or in small groups. Little did I suspect that I would be composing this music during a global pandemic in which we were all forced into working apart from one another.

“I have always been intrigued and fascinated by the non-verbal communication that takes place during ensemble performance: the way in which players send – and receive and interpret – visual and musical signals, and I wanted to incorporate some of these ideas into the fabric of a piece.”

The resulting work, Before I Fall Asleep, Again, The City…, takes its title from the first line of a novel by French author Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose use of multiple perspectives mirrors David’s own creative process. “It reflects my concept and it casts my piece into the domain of a recurring, if half-forgotten, memory,” he says.

“As always in my music, there is plentiful repetition; ideas move into the foreground then recede, only to return later in different contexts. I like the analogy of a person wandering aimlessly around a town, during which they regularly encounter sights previously seen from different directions, angles and perspectives: they experience familiar sights, unfamiliar sights, and the familiar ones in new guises.

“Memory plays an important role, so in the music I have tried to ensure that there are elements that will be recognised when they reappear, even if they are never quite the same each time.”

A research grant from York St John University enabled David to approach the new ensemble Trilogy with a view to performing it. “I was delighted when they agreed, but the ongoing pandemic has meant that all arrangements need to be provisional for the moment, though if all goes well, we are looking to perform it in York and London next year – and I can’t wait to hear it.”

As and when those performances can take place, the Trilogy performers will be placed as far apart as possible on stage.  “Not in different rooms, or buildings, as they have to be able to co-ordinate, but we want to use the space they are in to the maximum,” says David.

“We hope to do it as part of the York Late Music 2021 programme in the St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel next May, and we’re still hoping to perform it in London next summer, in June.”

David is working on two more projects too. “One is a piece for a solo violinist, Steve Bingham, who works extensively with live electronics,” he says. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’m firing off lots of questions to Steve.

“The other is a longer-term project, where I’m setting the sonnets of John Donne. Last year, two of his Holy Sonnets were performed in Oxford Town Hall – Death, Be Not Proud and At The Round Earth’s Imagined Corner – by Oxford Harmonic Choir, who now want me to do more.”