The Largest Outdoor Art Exhibition in the World

Artvehicle 6/Review

There's a rather muted call for exhibitors at what is billed The Largest Outdoor Art Exhibition in the World, which spans nearly a mile of park railings along Bayswater Road every Sunday of the year. The Bayswater Artists' Association website claims some 250 artists and craftspeople regularly attend, but the rent has recently been upped. As a result of this, and the chilly weather, there are a lot of empty pitches at the moment.

In fact, The rent doesn't sound too bad, at £7.46 per nine-foot pitch per week, paid by direct debit. There's a one-off license fee of about £100, and exhibitors must commit to one year of Sundays, in addition to taking out 3rd party insurance policy on the pitch, presumably to cover injuries to pedestrians.

The very nature of the site proves challenging at this time of year. Exhibitors keep a wary eye on the heavens. Drops of rain prompt weary, low level panic with plastic sheeting, and the wind threatens to turn canvases into sharp-edged projectiles and blow the no-claims bonus This Sunday, many of the artists are huddled within their steamed-up vehicles beside their stretch of railing.

Some brave the cold though, and here and there is an intoxicating waft of turpentine as painters rummage through untidy boxes of oils, dabbing away behind their easels, looking very much the part as they quietly wait for business to come their way. There is a steady trickle of people stopping to view work, Sunday walkers, tourists, and today, two Christmas shoppers on a mission.

The would-be punters, more often than not visitors to the city, seem to relish the experience of chatting with the artists. Not a few end up striking deals with them. Prices range from under a fiver to three hundred odd. The young couple wander off with a largeish, flawless photo-realist painting of a naked woman I saw earlier, now bubble-wrapped, talking excitedly to each other. "£290!" "She'll love it!' I wonder what the man's sister actually will make of the picture.

Westminster Council regulate the site, and trouser the rent. According to the representative I speak to at the Street Trader Hotline, candidates are first interviewed to check the suitability of their work, which must be original, and created by the artist, who must also be the exhibitor. No prints or copies of any kind are allowed. Only 'flat' art is permitted, 'no bobbly bits', she says. Clearly these rules are stretched, and flaunted. One set of abstracts I saw last Sunday was distinctly bobbly. Much of the work along the road is evidently conjured up with souvenir hunters in mind, typical London scenes involving beefeaters and horseguards, rotund figures in the style of Beryl Cook, and monochromes of pop and movie stars, churned out in bulk. Some of this stuff is inventively done, some truly ghastly.

The main offenders in the dreadful stakes are anaemic landscapes featuring country cottages and perspectiveless woodland vistas, and a rash of turgid abstracts the colour of 80s bathroom suites, although I later discover that even these compare favourably pound for pound with ones on offer in John Lewis, if you can abide that sort of thing. There are more worthwhile pieces to be found to remember the city by if you look, such as an acrylic by Steve Brook of a smeary London nightscape. Steve is one of a number of painters here who makes his living from his pictures and for whom the railings are just one port of call each week. A deft landscape by Roger Campbell, and work by gallery 235 also caught my eye.

A poke about on the association website and the links within reveals that some artists possess a broad range of skills and also produce work above and beyond the constraints of what they display here on a Sunday. One of the newer faces here sums up the situation when she explains that, while she enjoys the sense of camaraderie, she still hasn't sold much because she hasn't yet figured out what people are prepared to buy. The limits of the punters' appetites must always be taken into account. If this trade-off affords exhibitors relative independence from the daily grind, good luck to them.

Westminster Council Street traders' Hotline 020 7641 7822


The Largest Outdoor Art Exhibition in the World —  Bayswater Road with paintings by Alan Ferebee  2006 - Photo by Phil

Bayswater Road with paintings by Alan Ferebee
2006 - Photo by Phil Harris