20 years on London’s South Bank, with Skylark Galleries

20 years on London’s South Bank, with Skylark Galleries

Gill Hickman has been the beating heart of Skylark Galleries as its Director for the past two decades. She has assembled a group of 30 artists in the art collective, working in different disciplines, producing cost effective, original art which is sold direct.

Under her leadership, Skylark Galleries’ dual aims are to engender friendship within the group whilst deepening the experience and understanding of the collectives’ work in the world outside.  

She looks back here at the past 20 years and forward to the group’s bright new future.

“I joined Skylark as an exhibiting artist back in November 1998. At that time Skylark was just one gallery in Gabriel’s Wharf, there were 14 artists who each did a shift once a fortnight. 

Gabriel’s Wharf is owned and managed by Coin Street Community Builders. In the mid-nineties Coin Street set it up as an exciting enclave of creative shops and studios just waiting to be discovered. It became a very popular spot and was really buzzing especially at the weekends. I loved being part of the gallery, getting to know the other artists and meeting the visitors on my shift days. I had never had a regular outlet for my artwork so it felt as if I’d arrived!

About six months after I joined, the artist, who was then managing Skylark, rang me one evening to ask if I could take over as she couldn’t manage it anymore. If I couldn’t take it on she said the gallery would probably have to close. Well, at first I said no. I was a single mum with a lively five-year-old boy. How could I possibly run a gallery? But that night my dreams told me clearly, This is a special place. Don’t let this go! You can do it! So I rang her back in the morning and said, Yes! I’ll do it!

So the next few years were a time of great expansion. In October 2000 we started exhibiting at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park which got us onto London’s art map. Also in 2000, Tate Modern opened which massively increased the number of art lovers parading the South Bank. In 2001 we opened our second gallery in nearby Oxo Tower Wharf, thus doubling our number of artists and becoming Skylark Galleries. 

We took our art to fairs in Edinburgh, Cambridge, Glasgow, Bristol as well as Battersea. We held pop-up exhibitions in various parts of London. 

We were in the perfect place at the perfect time, nestled between Tate Modern, Bankside and the Hayward Gallery. A place where art-loving visitors could meet our artists face-to-face, learn about their inspirations and processes, and buy art direct from them at truly affordable prices. Skylark Galleries were a great success! 

Then came the financial crash in 2008. Blah blah blah. . . Oh dear! 

Several artists left, things were very tough…… but being determined to survive, we gradually built ourselves back up again, though not to the pre 2008 heights, unfortunately.

We hired the prestigious gallery@oxo for various lively and successful summer shows where we welcomed THOUSANDS of visitors, which all felt very positive.

But generally our visitor numbers and sales were not as high as we hoped. Sad to say, the successes of the South Bank Centre and Tate Modern kept many of our potential customers away from us. 

We were struggling along, hoping for better things. . . . and then along came COVID-19 !!!

The Covid-19 pandemic could easily have been the end of Skylark Galleries … but thanks to the strong commitment and energy of our amazing group of artists, we have used it instead as a chance to refresh, reinvent and reinvigorate Skylark Galleries and all that it stands for.

We closed both the galleries in March and began to meet weekly on ZOOM to discuss our possible ways forward. We clarified what Skylark is, and realised that it is really something quite special, a group of artists who work together, care about each other and support each other in showing and selling their work. 

We discovered during lockdown, that by meeting weekly we were getting to know each other better and were strengthening our core, the community of artists that we are. 

It is an honour to work with such an amazing group of artists with so much to offer.

We decided that instead of struggling to keep two physical galleries open we would build up the online side of Skylark Galleries by improving our website, adding an online shop, increasing our social media reach and setting up our own YouTube channel. We plan to present exciting videos of our artists in their studios, virtual studio tours, artist-to-artist interviews, demos, art classes and much more, all from our central website hub.

We are planning to reopen our lovely gallery in Gabriel’s Wharf later this year & will run more pop-up shows just as soon as we can.

With all these exciting developments we are future proofing Skylark Galleries! And we hope that both old and new customers will follow and support us on our journey.”


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