Bayswater Artists in the Heart of London

by Cass Art

Every Sunday in the heart of London, Bayswater Road is transformed into the city's liveliest open air art show. Cass Art met Haydn Dickenson, one of the exhibiting artists, to fill us in on the show and explain how other artists can get involved. 

Can you tell us a little about how the Bayswater Road exhibition first got started?

After World War 2 the London County Council set up the Embankment Show in May each year in the 1950's for artists. It was so popular that artists wanted a regular exhibiting area so some started pitching up near Hyde Park Corner and were not moved on until roadworks in the 1960's when they moved to Green Park. When that became full artists tried Bayswater Road opposite Queensway on the Kensington Gardens wire fence (the original iron railings had been melted down in the war to make ammunitions). As the exhibition grew, getting space to exhibit meant a night sleeping in the car. Parking on Bayswater Road was permitted from 6.30pm on Saturday so artists would arrive the night before to mark their pitch with a painting or sign. In those days you didn't need a licence to exhibit, so artists took turns to stake a pitch on alternate weekends for each other. But it was not always safe being on the road in the early hours.

One night a drunk man beat up an artist on night watch, breaking his nose and three ribs before pulling a knife to another. Artists would wear pyjamas under their day-clothes, which must have added to the air of eccentricity, alongside one artist who apparently used to wear a clown's check suit, bright yellow boots and a bowler hat! There were regular punch-ups over spaces, and the London Mob became involved, roping off long stretches of Bayswater Road, patrolling them with Alsation dogs and demanding money from artists for a pitch. Of course, I was not there in those early days! But I love talking to artists who have been at Bayswater since the beginning, and are full of these colourful tales of the history of our exhibition. You can see a few historic shots here, of bygone days on the Road, together with a few more recent snaps. Not much has changed – except you can't sell bags and fringed suede jackets etc any more - and sadly the clown has gone!

How does this open air show differ from other art exhibitions?

At Bayswater we pride ourselves on the diversity of the work on sale. Customers can be sure that they are buying only from the licensed artist – not from a dealer – and that all work is original. No reproductions and no themed souvenirs! Just a huge variety of truly affordable, unique art. But most importantly, we are here every Sunday, come rain or shine. And a few artists will pitch up on Bank Holiday Mondays too – usually down the Lancaster Gate end.

Can you tell us about your practice and how your experience has been?

I've painted all my life but made a major career change in 2006 when I decided to start taking my painting much more seriously. I've exhibited across the UK and in France too, and sold worldwide. But I've only been selling my work on the railings since April 2011, so have just had my third Bayswater Birthday! I specialise in contemporary Abstract work, and tasteful Nude Studies. I love the friendliness of the exhibition, and I still look forward to the show as the end of each week approaches.

Sales can be variable – though there does not seem to be any pattern to this. I've sold well even in the pouring rain! You just have to be 'in it to win it', pitching up in all weathers with a smile. The best sales are often made very quickly. I find that my original greetings cards are very popular, as well as larger works. I've got several clients who are collectors of my work and bring repeat custom, plus the occasional commission is not unknown.

How do you choose artists for a pitch or how do artists submit their work?

It's really easy to get started on the Bayswater Road. The first step is to contact Westminster City Council who will give you a list of the available pitches. Then go and look at the Road to get an idea where you'd like to be. WCC will arrange a short interview for you – pretty much a formality - when you'll be asked to take in samples of your work. The only rule is that all work must be original – no prints or reproductions of any kind. After buying your lifetime licence to exhibit, you can arrange to pay the weekly pitch rental by Direct Debit or cheque each month, and you're ready to start selling!

Call the Street Trading hotline on; 020 7641 7822 to arrange an interview. At Bayswater we are always looking for new artists, and there are plenty of vacant pitches all along the Road. We'd particularly welcome young artists, so do give WCC a call. You don't have to live in London to be part of the show, either.

How can people find the exhibition and how to get there?

The show runs continuously along a big stretch of Bayswater Road from Queensway (Central Line) in the West to Lancaster Gate (Central Line) in the East. The road is well served by buses. And parking is free for both public and artists all day.

Does the show have a web-presence?

Yes, we've got a website. You can find us on Twitter and on Facebook we have an Open Group. Like my own page on Facebook and you will find regular updates there too, as well as details of my work.

Feeling Inspired?

Shop online to stock up on your art supplies to get making that art! Check out our range of canvases and sketchbooks to start producing your paintings and sketches right away and start preparing for your own exhibitions. Buy C Roberson Exhibition Varnish to touch up your paintings before you exhibit them, or buy Loxley Supergrip Coloured Board Clips to display your drawings. 

To find out more about Haydn's work you can check out his website.

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