Roger De Grey PPRA
If Dr Pangloss was right that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, there would be no dissent in choosing works of quality. We should know that today's masters would be the same masters in all the arts in a century's time. As it is, one may virtually rely on there being quite different judgements by posterity so that painters, sculptors, composers and writers adopted as the darlings of our years will have disappeared into the great fog of failure that is to be the fate of all creators bar the most minute part of a minority.
One day in the summer of last year, a number of professional painters was considering the plight of an artist, thought by others to be among the best if not actually the best of today and yet almost unknown. It is because, said a sapient member of the group, he works on a small scale. Another of the group was reminded of a sculptor whom he thought was the measure of any since Rodin. Also fairly unknown and working, too, on a small scale.
Anybody may quickly refer to the small scale of the large majority of accepted masterpieces just as those painters did and logically they must come to the conclusion that the best of today will be more easily discovered by a large exhibition of small works. This exhibition and, even more, its successors will help as never before to concentrate the mind on likes and dislikes, on good and bad, on style and the lack of it.
The organisers had the hope that the unknown would mingle with the famous and be seen as no worse, that the public would ignore names and buy their choice, that at last there would be some representation of art to suit the domestic situation. This hope was echoed and supported by the altruism of the sponsor who lent his private purse and professional abilities to ensuring that this wonderful opportunity for the buyer and for the artist would be a success. Without his initial impulse, would the Evening Standard have done so much to ensure that so many knew about it and would there be a magnificent prize so ingeniously as well as so generously contrived to go to an unknown artist worthy not only of the financial assistance to his career but of the great acclaim to go with it ?
The Discerning Eye was conceived, underwritten and organised by Michael Reynolds, Ian Laing, and the Federation of British Artists respectively who would like to record their appreciation of the enormous amount of work put by Giles Auty, Odette Gilbert, Roger de Grey, Peter Palumbo, David Poole and Brian Sewell to make this exhibition reality and thank the Evening Standard for its enlightened support in providing the New Discovery Art Prize. They would also like to thank Atlantis Warehouse for their award, Barwell and Jones for the wine at the Private View, Dennis Double for photography and Rustin Clark for their patience in compiling this catalogue.
Sponsor: Evening Standard
New Discovery Art Prize
The Federation of British Artists would like to thank the Evening Standard for its support of the arts in London and especially for its financial encouragement of artists.
The award of £15,000 made by our distinguished panel of judges is specifically designed to encourage unknown artists in the hope of discovering major new talent.
The prize was open to any artist of any age in any medium. Only two stipulations were made: the first was that the artist should not have had a one-man show in a major central London gallery and the second was that the size of the work should not exceed 20 inches in any dimension.
The response was remarkable. On the final day of submission for the open section, the queue of eager artists outside the entrance stretched 100 yards down Carlton House Terrace.
Sculptures, paintings, ceramics and works of art of all kinds were delivered naked as they were born, handsomely wrapped or in carrier bags. They came by van, by bicycle and by post from all over the country.
In the end, the judges were faced with the daunting task of selecting from over 3,300 submissions in this section alone, as well as considering works submitted by their own invited artists.
Those entrusted with the job were Peter Palumbo, Chairman of the Arts Council; Roger de Grey, President of the Royal Academy; David Poole, President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters; Odette Gilbert, the Cork Street Gallery owner; Giles Auty, art critic of The Spectator; and the Evening Standard's art critic Brian Sewell.
Discussions were sometimes heated. Some minds were changed. Others remained adamant. Hours extended into days and days into weeks before the final works of art to be shown in the exhibition were selected.
Different judges adopted different standpoints. The notion of acquiring pictures to live with was the guiding principle finally adopted by Brian Sewell.
His hope is that the exhibition will encourage people who have never bought a picture to buy one. "The pictures and sculptures are of a size that will not require their new owners to redecorate their sitting rooms. They are approachable pictures."
Roger de Grey commented: "The Evening Standard award is the largest of its kind and a tremendous encouragement to struggling artists who have not got the recognition they deserve. As the best entries clearly demonstrate, it has generated work well worth discovering."
Selector Profile: Giles Auty
It is flattering to be thought of as possessing a discerning eye, even though that instrument is no longer an object of automatic regard in contemporary criticism. Clearly it is hardly fashionable to appraise works of art from an aesthetic standpoint at a time when Britain's leading art historical institution encourages critical interpretation based instead largely on class or gender warfare.
In asking eight artists to take part in this exhibition I was motivated partly by their sense of beauty and partly by the feeling that all deserve to be better known. Indeed Leonard McComb is one of the more interesting talents working anywhere in the Western world, yet the quality of his work has been acknowledged too seldom even in his own country. I like his work additionally because it affirms the reasonable purposes of living. Here is an artist who is lyrical, idiosyncratic and unmoved by fashion; a true original, in fact. Anthony Bream and my critical colleague William Packer share similarly positive attitudes. The former is a prolific and talented admirer of Sargent while the latter's output is curbed necessarily by the time and effort he expends on writing weekly doses of good sense in the columns of the Financial Times. By contrast, Ann Gardner and Jill Barthorpe are young artists who studied formerly at the Slade; both are trying hard now to make careers in painting. This struggle is a tough one and is a subject with which I have some familiarity. Nor is a head-on assault on appearances an easy way of working. Yet it is one which promotes the kind of progress which can be seen and measured. Often art which is more overtly about ideas overlooks the fact that even the best ideas require a means and language which is adequate for their expression.
Finally it gives me pleasure to introduce two young, little-known sculptors to a wider audience. The number might have been three if I had discovered the works of Yugosloav Ivan Klapez earlier. I feel that the work of Sadiq and of Vanessa Pooley has wit, elegance and originality enough not to need any special pleading. Remember, though, the very high material costs faced by young sculptors working in traditional materials. They truly invest in their futures.
Is premonition part of the function of a discerning eye? I believe at least two of the artists I have mentioned will become known much more widely in the future.
Selector Profile: Odette Gilbert
The role in which I was chosen as a selector for the Discerning Eye exhibition at the Mall Galleries December 1990 was that of a collector and I have endeavoured to exemplify this within my compilation of the work of over seventy artists working in Britain today.
A number of works within this miscellany derive from my private collection, Lucian Freud's 'The Painter's Daughter' is one example. Then there are those images by artists featured within my collection of whom I have requested supply me with work specifically for the Discerning Eye. But, in the main, the paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculpture which constitute my group are the work of artists whom I would dearly love to enlarge my collection had I the financial where-with-all to do so!
The majority of emphasis within my anthology centres around the human form, which I feel is universally an ideal vehicle for human expression and one which takes a multiplicity of guises within my group.
From the painterly reclining nude of Jeffery Camp, the self portrait by John Wonnacott or the monochrome solitary figure in the 'Mask Series' by Jacqueline Morreau through to the pleasurable activities shared with others, evident in Sandra Fisher's irridescent oil 'Picnic Little Venice', the depiction of automaton human rituals displayed in 'Wabash Avenue Study' by Richard Gilbert, the portrayal of those hard at work in Robert Mason's 'Broadgate Series' and those human forms diffused through symbolism, acting as metaphors for human traits, evident in Alexis Hunter's mythological creatures and in the works on paper by John Bellany and Paula Rego.
The Landscape and Still Life also feature significantly within my selection and with landscape especially I feel the subject permits a broader spectrum of execution. 'August' by John Hacker and 'Headland' by William Crozier are examples of this more abstract approach to their image whereas Lisa Micklewright's 'Landscape' and the monochromatic forest photograph by Michael Porter are more traditional in their approach. And a similar diversity occurs in the depiction of objects. Maria Marshall's powerful steel sculptures of the Double Bass and Cello contrast strongly with the more classical treatment given to 'Mackerel' and 'Anemones' in the oil paintings by Haidee Becker. But, although appreciating many of the diverse artistic perspectives evident in contemporary British art, my preference herein can be said to be fairly consistent, in that the majority of the work could be broadly categorised to fall within the boundaries of expressive figuration which, I feel, is generally more communicable to most levels of understanding.
Selector Profile: Roger de Grey
In this century, restrictions on the subject, size or scale of a work of art have often been thought of as an impediment to expression. Artists are prone to grumbling as everyone knows - and I have heard more grumbles about work commissioned than anything else - but this competition appealed to me because of its very character. Those who do not like the large scale of modern art will perhaps think that this exhibition is an antidote to it. I sometimes wonder if they would have had Monet reduce his great waterlily paintings to domestic proportions in order to meet their desire to tame 20th-century exuberance. The small paintings of many great artists have included some of the great masterpieces of the world. Encouraged by this thought, I chose some artists who frequently worked at quite a small scale, but others who I thought of as monumentalists. I was rather surprised by the enthusiastic response of both groups and look forward very much to seeing the resulting exhibition both of artists of my own choice and those of fellow selectors.
For me it has been more difficult to distinguish between those artists who have gained a reputation and those who are seeking it, particularly as the latter category will contain artists whose work changes rapidly - as perhaps it should - as their first heroes are discarded and replaced by others. Art feeds on art; it is inspired not by nature but by the whole visual experience of the artist. In this century many of the greatest artists have changed their perception of what art is about and produced works so dramatically different that recognition is based not on historical understanding but on careful analysis of the handwriting.
Small works demand as much vision on the part of the artist as large ones and I would invite the viewer to comprehend this scale of concept, which transcends the boundaries imposed by the conditions of the competition.
Selector Profile: Peter Palumbo
“Take the love of beauty, and the power of imagination,
which are the source of every true achievement in art ...”
John Ruskin in TIME AND TIDE
Making choices is one of the great privileges within Western society. To have things to choose from, and the means with which to exercise that choice, is something that we should never assume. In our modern world we make decisions and choices all the time, but often without the time to stop and analyse them. Choices in the arts take a little longer. Deciding what music to listen to, which play to attend and what book to read involves greater consideration than what to eat or wear. What informs such choices? The views of the critics? A word from a friend perhaps? Previous work by the artist or the intuition of the moment? All these have their part in leading us to a particular play or exhibition, where once again we are left with our own emotional and intellectual resources.
To discern is not only to distinguish, but also to discover. Choosing works of art is a special privilege. Unlike the curator who has to think of an eventual audience or imagine the look of a display in a gallery, choosing for oneself (after considerations of price and size) demands being one to one with the work of art. So much is in the impact of colour, design, texture, material and, of course, the meaning. And here the eye is not alone. Even without the actual touch, the tactile sense of a sculpture, its weight and surface, combine with its image and form. The experience of a painting is primarily visual, but simultaneously combines the emotional and the intellectual, and indeed one may 'feel' a response well before one knows how to describe or express it.
Choosing works for this exhibition has been an enjoyable experience for me. Whilst travelling around the country in my role as Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, I spend much of my time meeting people from every area of the Arts. I am constantly struck by the wealth and diversity of talent amongst our visual artists: our galleries and museums are full of lively and inventive exhibitions. It is thus a special delight to meet individual artists and to be able to buy a work every now and again. This selection is mostly composed from such meetings with artists and their works which occurred during the last year. I offer it here in the hope that these paintings and sculptures will excite others as much as they have excited me.
Selector Profile: David Poole
The fine arts in England are all too often diminished by literary associations giving little appreciation to the strongly visual artist. Henry Moore's obituary in the English Press took merely a quarter-page, in the German Press it ran to four pages. The French are capable of admiring the literary and narrative artists like David and Delacroix yet still accommodate other ways of visual expression. They encompass a Cezanne or a Matisse where I feel the English would not enthuse over a Matthew Smith.
In contrast, perhaps because of their traditional links with the Continent the Scots have tended to support painting rather from the stomach than the head. True we have artists like Carel Weight - whose work I am delighted to see here - but there is an obsessive and poetic disturbance in his work as well as a strong literary quality and Auerbach, Freud and Kossoff move towards a toughness of structure which holds a depth of comment. Other more fashionable, internationally accepted figures are seemingly content at a lightweight decorative level.
This sort of exhibition has given lesser known artists the opportunity, backed by the established serious names, of opening up the insular English approach and away from superficial decoration.
I was somewhat disappointed to see a leaning to slightness and whimsy in the work from the younger people in the open submissions and I regretted there was not greater commitment to firmness of shape, colour and structure. If the work is biased to the literary, why not the studied intensity of a Stanley Spencer? Nonetheless among the invited works there are pieces delightful for their selective strength and avoidance of the superficial.
By limiting the size, the sponsor and the Evening Standard have made a major contribution towards getting down to the bare bones of creation. We have seen far too many enormous canvasses of unstructured daubs. Size can impress the layperson! I hope there will spring from this exhibition a realisation of the control needed in different scales of work, that artist and public alike will see that a great step has been made towards committed art that can fit the space we live in.
Selector Profile: Brian Sewell
'You have to paint large at the Slade or nobody notices': nothing has changed this academic norm since Derek Jarman, as a student there under the much vaunted William Coldstream, made that observation in 1967 and won the Stuyvesant Prize with a canvas nine feet long. Up and down the land art schools are crowded with students who, taught little of drawing, less of perspective and anatomy, and nothing of the material beauties of paint, are urged by their largely incompetent masters to labour on vast tracts of canvas in the mystical pursuit of self-expression; few patrons ever wish to buy their pictures, fewer still have rooms large enough to house them, and in their prodigal waste of materials they are a ruinously extravagant ecological disaster. Worse, artists of Jarman's generation, now mature, do not with maturity relinquish the Ozymandian scale, and with their persistence put an intolerable strain on the resources of great galleries - the new Director of the Tate Gallery has cleared away the sculptures of Rodin, Matisse and Moore, emptying the central axis of the building so that he may house in it only three new works by the fashionable sculptor Richard Long, vast arrangements of slate, flint and china clay.
Virtue is not inherent in great size; no work is necessarily good in quality or profound in sentiment simply because it extends over half an acre or has inflated bulk - witness the hortative political art of Russia and its satellites, the grotesque absurdities of Vigeland's sculpture park in Oslo, the demanding nonsense churned out in Germany and America by Baselitz (the upside down painter) and Schnabel (the man of shattered cups and saucers); those who emulate these examples under the impression that the urban sprawl of canvas is the only way to paint, that heaping industrial detritus is the only way to sculpt, would do well to look back through the history of art, to Jan van Eyck and Antonello, to Samuel Palmer and Degas, and the sculptor utterly seduced by the beauties of the iron girder should consider the small Renaissance bronze sensuously warming in the patron's hand.
Large has excluded small, and become an Orwellian rubric; small, on the other hand, excludes nothing, but merely pleads to be taken in account, for it can go where large cannot; small can deal with nostalgia, sentiment, sensuality and whimsy, when all these might, on a large scale, be absurd and have no mystery, no intimacy, no stamina; small can deal as easily as large with the grandeurs of the human spirit - witness Rubens' honeyed sketches - and with its deepest degradations - witness Goya's horrors; prodded and poked, squeezed and pinched between Rodin's finger and thumb, small stood in its own right, but small added to small built for him great Gates of Hell, just as drawings pieced together made for Michelangelo his Sistine Ceiling and Last Judgement. In the history of art it seems that small acknowledges no limits.