Gillian Ayres RA
William Bowyer RA NEAC RP
Sir Brinsley Ford
John Russell Taylor
The Discerning Eye aims to entertain and to encourage
The exhibition is a fascinating opportunity to compare the personal taste of six eminent figures from the art world. Each of them have volunteered their time and judgement to bring together a personal selection representing some of the best of contemporary British art. Small works, by both established and unknown artists, are hung together to create a distinct identity within each of their six separate sections.
This year's selectors are artists Gillian Ayres OBE RA (abstract) and William Bowyer RA NEAC RP (figurative); collectors Sir Brinsley Ford CBE FSA, former Chairman of The National Art Collections Fund, and Lord Gowrie, Chairman of Sotheby's and Trustee of the Serpentine Gallery; and critics Tim Hilton, Art Critic of the Guardian, and John Russell Taylor, Art Critic of the Times.
The Discerning Eye's encouragement is twofold. The first aim is to help lesser known artists in the pursuit of their careers by giving them the opportunity to show alongside those whose reputation is already established. Each selector is requested to ensure that at least a quarter of his section is made up of works from unknown artists. These are chosen either by personal invitation or by selection from the Discerning Eye open entry.
Every lesser known artist whose work you see here is eligible for a range of prizes. The most prestigious is The Evening Standard New Discovery Art Prize of £15,000. This, together with the Discerning Eye Awards, is chosen by joint decision of our six selectors. In addition there are a number of individual prizes and offers of exhibitions from major galleries.
The second aim is to encourage all our visitors to exercise their own judgement. Which of the selectors' groups of paintings do you most like and what makes it distinctive? Within each group is it easy to single out the established artists from the new talent? Had you been one of the selectors, which of the lesser known artists would you nominate for The Evening Standard New Discovery Prize?
We hope that it will add to your enjoyment of this exhibition if you ask these questions as you view it and give us your answers as you leave. Your selection counts, because a final prize will be awarded on the last day of the Birkenhead exhibition to the work which receives most visitors votes.
The ultimate encouragement that the Discerning Eye can give to visitors is the confidence to purchase any work which strongly appeals to them. The exhibition is non profit-making and its final aim is to boost private patronage of living artists. All the exhibits have passed the scrutiny of an eminent and independent selector. Size is restricted in order to offer a wide choice at affordable prices. The pleasure of a discerning eye can be enjoyed at large during the exhibition; we hope it will endure long afterwards if visitors are encouraged to act on their own judgement.
We are delighted that The Discerning Eye will tour to the Williamson Gallery, Birkenhead, from 19th December to 19th January. The exhibition is open for a longer period in London than last year, from 29th November to 7th December and now includes a separate section of works by prize winners, past and present.
The high point for many visitors will be the special "Evening Standard Day" on Sunday, 1st December during which Brian Sewell, Art Critic of the Standard, will be available to discuss the exhibition on an informal basis with members of the public.
The Federation of British Artists would like to thank Ian Laing and Michael Reynolds who, together with the Federation's Annabel Elton, were responsible for the conception, financing and planning that lie behind this Exhibition.
The Selectors: Gillian Ayres, William Bowyer, Sir Brinsley Ford, Lord Gowrie, Tim Hilton and John Russell Taylor, have, out of the goodness of their hearts, donated a considerable amount of time and thought to their personal selections and to the prizes.
The Evening Standard has donated the generous and imaginative Evening Standard New Discovery Art Prize of £15,000 and has supported this with coverage in both the magazine and newspaper. Special thanks are also due to Brian Sewell for giving his time and enthusiasm to the Evening Standard Day.
Many galleries are supporting the artists with awards namely the Catto Gallery, Fischer Fine Art, Christopher Hull and Llewellyn Alexander. Modern Painters Magazine is kindly donating four subscriptions. i.s.t.d. fine paper limited have kindly contributed in the form of card for the signs around the Exhibition and Alastair MacDonald for writing them.
Finally, I would like to mention the Westminster Council for their continuing support of the FBA as a whole.
The Discerning Eye relies on the enthusiasm and goodwill of many. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for enabling this splendid and worthwhile exhibition to take place.
The Federation Of British Artists
The FBA is an educational charity set up to promote public awareness of contemporary British Artists throughout the UK and abroad. It is home to Britain's leading art societies and is based at the Mall Galleries where artists are aided in their effort to exhibit and sell their work. The FBA organises an exhibition programme with special consideration for artists at an early stage in their careers
New Discovery Art Prize
The Federation of British Artists would like to thank the Evening Standard on behalf of all unrecognised artists for again sponsoring a prize that gives them real encouragement.
Worth £15,000, the prize is given with the aim of promoting the discovery of exciting new talent. The project seems to be working. Last year's winner, Shaun Ferguson, now has paintings in several private collections and has just had a successful one-man show.
The award was crucial in giving him a freedom of manoeuvre not enjoyed by most young, struggling artists. He explains why: "The money has been put back into my work in the form of paint and canvas. This probably doesn't sound exciting but it has felt like a great luxury being able to buy all the materials I want without having to worry too much about their cost."
Entry for the award is open to any artist of any age in any medium. Only two stipulations are made; firstly is that the artist should not have had a one-man show in a major central London gallery and secondly is that the size of the work should not exceed 20 inches in any dimension.
This year's response has again been overwhelming. More than 2,500 works of art arrived for the open selection day at the Federation's headquarters, the Mall Galleries, from all over the country. Watercolours, oils, sculptures and ceramics came by post or were carefully brought in person to take their chances before the judges.
This year's panel was formed by Lord Gowrie, Chairman of Sotheby's and former Arts Minister; Sir Brinsley Ford, former Chairman of the National Art Collections Fund; artists Gillian Ayres and William Bowyer, President of the New English Art Club; and critics Tim Hilton of The Guardian and John Russell Taylor of The Times.
They faced a formidable task, having to choose not only from the entries in the open section but from works of art submitted by invited artists. In the event they reached their conclusions surprisingly swiftly and with little disagreement.
Gillian Ayres was positive on two counts. "We enjoyed ourselves," she said, "and there is a clarity and toughness about what we picked."
Selector Profile: Gillian Ayres
A Brancusi column would not have worked, reduced to the size of an Egyptian figurine.
Much smaller populations all over the world, in the past loved building 'Towers in to the sky'. From Newgrange to Eastern Island Figures, awe, the sublime and scale were obviously deeply felt.
There is no virtue in small works, although Klee and Albert Ryder almost totally used a small scale and Manet's very last small flower paintings were exquisite.
The entire whole personality from imagination can exist on any scale. The illusion created is one which requires the human eye to see it and the human body to feel and relate to it. The only consistency in Art is aesthetic consistency. We adjust when an Indian miniature is viewed.
The idea behind the Discerning Eye is extremely good because the size allows a large number of works of known and lesser known painters and sculptors to be exhibited. It allows a surfacing of what's going on, and a chance to represent a wider, very exciting, scene.
I tend to enjoy an art that shows an awareness of Matisse's existence, possibly Olympian - with painting I've always liked colour painterly painting - but there are no rules.
Selector Profile: William Bowyer
Private patronage is vitally important to living artists and anything we can do to extend this must be a valuable idea. The Discerning Eye Exhibition's restriction of the size of work is important as younger artists need to be able to resolve their work on a smaller scale. Most college leavers are working on a large scale despite the fact that eight foot canvases are suitable only for public collections and the art-collecting elite. It is only upon encountering the realities of the world-at-large and the thought of having to hang and sell work that they realise that scale is an important factor.
The judgement of art is, in the end, subjective and each discerning eye will be attracted to different things. The image - is it striking? The intention - is it intriguing? The execution - is it resolved? All these play their part in the quality of a work.
After the void of the 60's and 70's drawing has at last become important again in art teaching, and the work coming out of the schools is now showing signs of draughtsmanship.
I have selected work on the basis that I enjoy it, not as an academic exercise or as a great statement about the future or meaning of art. Even this is a ruthless task as in selection the eye must dictate. I have selected artists whose work I have known and admired for a long time, who are now major figures in the British art world and work which has pleased me by young artists who may well contribute to the next generation of British names.
Overall I have selected artists who are making a distinctive contribution to British life through their work, through its quality and through the enjoyment derived from it.
Selector Profile: Sir Brinsley Ford
About three years ago I was taken to see a remarkable collection of paintings, drawings and sculpture by such artists as Klee, Henry Moore, Gaudier Brzeska, Stanley Spencer, Henry Lamb and many other artists whose names I have forgotten.
On my asking the lady, who was even more remarkable than her collection, when she had acquired these works, she replied, "Before I was 25, of course, for after that age you lose your eye". "This", I said, "is a pretty remark to make to an octogenarian, who is still collecting."
I was, therefore very flattered, at my advanced age, to be asked to be one of the six selectors for this exhibition, and still to be credited with a 'discerning eye'.
It is over 60 years ago, when as an undergraduate at Oxford, I started collecting contemporary art, and by the age of 24 I had acquired works by the following sculptors - Frank Dobson, Epstein, Gaudier, Eric Gill, Henry Moore, John Skeaping and Stephen Tomlin, by whom I presented my only gift to the Tate Gallery, a bronze bust of Lytton Strachey.
I am sorry that I have only been able to invite one sculptor, Roderick Tye, to exhibit in my section. I suppose, in old age, one's judgement becomes less adventurous, and I must confess that the so-called sculptures recently purchased by the Tate Gallery are totally meaningless and incomprehensible to me.
It was a great disappointment that in the vast number of entries submitted to us by outside competitors there were hardly any passable sculptures and so few drawings of any consequence.
In my section I have tried to show the work of the 'established' painters I most admire. All are figurative artists of great and varied distinction. At the head of my list I would place Peter Greenham and his wife, Jane Dowling, for I have long been not only a great admirer of their work but also of that of the artists who have studied under them — Cheryll Fountain, Peter Kuhfeld, Edmund Fairfax-Lucy, Martin Shortis and Martin Yeoman. They have all contributed to this exhibition.
Besides showing the work of 'established' artists, my chief reason for participating in this exhibition is that it has given me the opportunity of including the work of a number of promising young artists. Eleven of those who are exhibiting here have been to Spain on the Richard Ford Award which I founded in memory of my great-grandfather in 1976 to enable young painters to study masterpieces in the Prado. I am delighted that Shaun Ferguson, who won the Evening Standard prize last year, was one of them, and that another, Keith Roberts, is the runner-up in this year's competition.
Selector Profile: Lord Gowrie
A painting, to my way of thinking, is no different from a sculpture. It is a thing, an object that exists in three-dimensions, and you decide whether it moves you with little reference to its subject-matter or whatever is taking place in pictorial terms on the surface of board or canvas. "A poem should not mean but be" - the old tag makes the point well.
The paintings I have chosen have this thingyness, or tactility, in common. At the edge of the sea, it's the individual pebble or shell that captures the eye. I rather doubt my eye is discerning; it is, I hope, open, up for grabs. It is also, of course, captive and trapped in the skull and experience of its owner. Few of us are immune to the spirit of our time, to fashion even. This is still the case when, as happens rather too often in England, we find ourselves at odds with it. Richard Long is a very fashionable artist; that should not stop him becoming a great one.
A civilisation which includes the stone circles at Avebury, or New Grange in County Meath in the sum of its experience should find his obsession with points of contact between ourselves and the natural world as accessible as Constable.
John Latham is less well known; he and the Boyle family produce work of greater solidity and discipline than many more famous figures of the international avant-garde. James Hugonin and Sarah Bray tackle the traditional problems of light ("The sun is God, my dear" as the dying Turner is said to have said). Bray paints air, that is to say light as a dynamic - something that takes place in time. Hugonin traps its physical effects like a lepidopterist. He is energetic, meticulous, obsessive. Derek Hill's Irish landscapes have the same concerns; in my case they mix memory and desire as I grew up in Donegal. Edwina Leapman is as much a naturalist of light as Hill is of landscape.
I happen to have a special interest in British painters who made their reputations in the 1950's; I collect works by Roger Hilton. The achievement of Hilton and his contemporaries was obscured by the fascinating but much more strident products of the New York school who were working along the same lines. John Wells is a subtle and underestimated exemplar and so is Prunella Clough. It is cheering that quite a few young painters — Estelle Thompson and Oliver Gosling in this selection — recognise that subtlety is still worthwhile. I have followed Martin Constable's career for three years; he is getting better and better and how interesting it is to see two young painters, Martin and Jane Langley, inspired by Goya.
Drawings work differently on the senses from paintings; they are not sculptures and depend on the artist's ability to ring the changes between two and three dimensions. Leon Kossoff is a fine draughtsman and also the best painter of the contemporary London townscape. The ability of visual art to tell stories or place things on record is also important but I prefer this to take place at the movies rather than on canvas. With drawing, it is another matter. Posy Simmonds has left us the record of the English bourgeoisie in the late 20th century. Nicholas Garland's people look more like themsleves than they do when you meet them, an astonishing example of the ability of art to encapsulate and transform.
Selector Profile: Tim Hilton
This has been a delightful exhibition to select: in the first place because of the quality and variety of the work that was presented to the jury, and secondly because the Discerning Eye devised such a flexible and welcoming system for our deliberations. The six members of the panel sent invitations to artists whose work we already knew, so when we looked through it one felt as though being introduced to five different sets of other people's friends; and since there was such a strong response to the open submission we all felt that we were making new friends of our own, artists we'll often see again in the years to come. I hope the artists feel the same way about the jury!
As often happens with big exhibitions, we were struck by sheer numbers. The world seems full of artists. Furthermore, the painters and sculptors seem utterly various.
Perhaps there has never been such a range of individuality in British art as there is today. Nobody feels that they have to subscribe to a set of rules or conventions. Certainly there's no dominant trend. However - and this certainly is new - some of the least conventional work is being made by older rather than younger artists. Although, as I write, I haven't seen the exhibition on the walls I expect it will contain surprises by veterans as well as first-time exhibitors.
I ought to say something about the painters and sculptors that I personally invited, but feel that it would be wrong to single out a few names and not mention others. Anyway, their works speak for themselves. Nobody these days (unless they're terribly benighted) thinks that contemporary art is obscure. The truly opaque modern art form is poetry, and this is one reason why poets find it difficult to be individual. One thing I'd claim for my artists is that they sing their own songs. I didn't want art that contains other people's clutter. Rather, I hoped to suggest that we live in an age of singular personalities. Our period style is to be ourselves.
Selector Profile: John Russell Taylor
In my days as a film critic I seemed constantly to be putting together my 'Ten Best' list for world-wide polls on the subject. The problem was always, do you pick some kind of 'objective' list of standard classics, or do you go with your desert island choice, however weird? I took the second approach, since it seems to me impossible to speak for anyone but myself without falling into hypocrisy. I think the same thing applies to the selection of work for a show like The Discerning Eye. It is an opportunity for the critic (as well as the artist and the collector) to indulge himself by showing simply what he likes: whether his selections have any wider significance, whether they move the bounds of art noticeably in any direction or not, is sublimely irrelevant.
So, what do I find I respond to if I am consulting no criterion except what affects and gives pleasure to me?
Obviously my choices are primarily, though not exclusively representational: I am certainly glad that I have been an art critic in the 1980s when there has been a great revival in representational art, since I doubt if I would have had much fun in the previous decade, when the prevailing approaches were minimal and conceptual. It is pleasing to observe that the sorts of painting I particularly respond to are nowadays engaged in not only by senior citizens (though my most senior, Richard Eurich, contrives at 88 to remain as current, lively and unpredictable as any) but by very young painters just out of art school.
Beyond that I find that I have a clear taste for fantasy in painting. Actually, I do not see it quite as fantasy, but rather as the crystallisation of alternative, no less 'real', realities: many of my choices, among them obviously Phillippa Claydon, Laura Ford, Ansel Krut and David Hosie, have all the resonances of a dream, or even at times a nightmare. Even an apparent hyper-realist like Sara Rossberg produces a sort of hallucinatory intensity far beyond the depiction of everyday reality. To use a cant phrase of a few years ago, they are about 'conciousnessraising', which I think has always been one of the most important and serious functions of art. Even if my selection began as an irresponsible desert-island choice of art which gives me pleasure, if pressed I would define its importance and relevance to the deeper issues of life against all corners.