John Ward CBE RA RP NEAC
Welcome to the third Discerning Eye Exhibition. As in previous years, six eminent selectors have brought together their personal choices of small works, representing some of the best of contemporary British art. Each selection is hung together, creating its own distinct identity with a mixture of established and unknown artists.
This year's selectors are: artists John Ward, CBE, RA, PVPRP, RWS and Glynn Williams, Professor of Sculpture, Royal College of Art; collectors Christopher Lloyd, Surveyor of The Queen's Pictures, and His Honour Judge Stephen Tumim, Chairman of the British Art Markets Standing Committee; and critics Lady Marina Vaizey, Editor of Art Quarterly, and Robin Simon, Editor of Apollo Magazine, Art Critic of the Daily Mail.
There is no limitation of form, medium or style of works submitted other than that they should be small. This ensures that a greater number of artists can be exhibited including many who have had little previous opportunity to appear before the public.
Every unknown artist exhibited is eligible for one of the Discerning Eye Awards, the winners being chosen by joint decision of the six selectors. Former prizewinners have been given the opportunity to display further examples of their work separately. Some have enjoyed notable success in their subsequent careers, becoming established in private and public collections.
The Discerning Eye is a non-profit making exhibition. It's final objective is to encourage public opinion to be more influential and constructive, for it is to the public that artists must appeal as the principal buyer and ultimate judge of their work.
The Discerning Eye was conceived, financed and planned by Ian Laing, Michael Reynolds and Annabel Elton with help and advice from James Cooke for this third exhibition. Together they would particularly like to thank:
^The Selectors: Christopher Lloyd, Robin Simon, Judge Tumim, Lady Vaizey, John Ward and Glynn Williams, who have given so much time and thought to their personal selections.
^The galleries and publications for their individual awards, Catto Gallery, Llewellyn Alexander, The Art Newspaper, Modern Painters, Watercolours, Drawings and Prints and Collyer-Bristow Gallery.
^The Federation of British Artists for their valuable assistance with the planning and administration of the exhibition.
^^The Discerning Eye relies on the enthusiasm and goodwill of many people. Thank you to them all for enabling this splendid and worthwhile exhibition to take place.
Selector Profile: Christopher Lloyd
The title of this exhibition is somewhat disconcerting in the sense that I am not sure how discerning my eye is, or whether it is even capable of discernment at all. In making my selection, therefore, I have had to rely upon instinct and training.
Ingres once said, "If I had to put a sign above my door, it would read: SCHOOL OF DRAWING and I am sure I would produce painters". Since I have spent a great deal of my working life absorbing the contents of one of the greatest Print Rooms in the world, I react instinctively to works of art that are underpinned by a sense of drawing. Such art is likely to be disciplined - the result of careful observation and preparation, as well as of manual dexterity.
Drawings, whether preparatory or finished, exist in their own right and have a particular appeal for twentieth century sensibilities.
Yet, by various means, the act of drawing has to be translated into paint. This happens either as a result of processes of direct transference with the brush following specific marks on the surface, or by virtue of a freer mode of operation based on recollection and leading to refinement.
This emphasis on drawing does not mean that my selection is limited to figurative painting. On the contrary, a number of abstract works are included, since such painting does not of course imply the negation of drawing. The presentation of abstract imagery is in many cases dependent upon the manipulative ploys of pure draughtsmanship incorporating both an underlying sense of form and a dexterous control over a textured surface.
On such interrelationships Camille Pissarro once remarked, "It is good to draw everything, anything. When you have trained yourself to see a tree truly, you know how to look at the human figure" (letter of 25 July 1883).
As expressed, this explanation of my selection seems far removed from the simple, unalloyed enjoyment of art which is what I have endeavoured to present. Humour in the broadest sense - conscious or unconscious - can be an important ingredient in a work of art, even more so when it is unexpected or slow to emerge. It can be used either as a weapon or as a straightforward release of tension. "Rather incline towards caricature than towards prettiness" was how Camille Pissarro phrased it (letter of 5 July 1883).
The greatest pleasure I have derived from The Discerning Eye has come from looking at a large and varied range of art, from meeting artists, and visiting dealers. For the non-artist there can be few so totally exhilarating experiences as entering an artist's studio. Indeed, my work for this exhibition coincided with the Whitechapel Open and the shows organised by colleges of art. In taking advantage of this successful open studio system I have been struck by the array of talent, the degree of conviction, the camaraderie and the entrepreneurial spirit that abounds in the pursuit of art today against considerable odds. The Discerning Eye, with its mix of well-known, less well-known and unknown, is a challenging outlet for a state of affairs which, contrary to economics, seems to be flourishing more than ever. And for this ebullience and resilience we should all be grateful.
Selector Profile: Robin Simon
I know how a fourteenth-century panel painting is put together; I can even trace, with luck, the inside story of a fresco. I can, I suppose, perform most of the usual art-historical tricks. The more I talk to artists, however, the plainer it becomes to me that, even after years of studying paintings, I know lamentably little about the actual business of picture-making (especially in oils).
Is it perverse of me, therefore, to admire artists who take a pride in their craft, who have retained a belief in technical expertise - as a necessity before work can even begin? No.
I have learnt, through my experience of the art of the past, to recognise that ideas are necessarily yoked to practice, and that it is foolish to pretend otherwise. It is not just 'the thought that counts'. I am happy to attempt to confirm, in this unusual exhibition, that the 'craftsmanship of art' survives - and that means art itself.
Selector Profile: Stephen Tumim
When you choose pictures for an exhibition, you suffer and enjoy a conflict of feelings. It is an honour and it is fun (particularly if, as with the Mall Galleries, the donkey work is done by others). Above all you wonder if at last your selection will show you where your taste really lies: a sudden light on what you like. But when you see it all together, it may look well but never sheds that sort of light.
In my choice there seems little in common between an abstract by Stephen Buckley, with its broken textures, a conversation piece by Shanti Panchal or a Goyaesquerie by Ansel Krut. Different lines of vision approach different worlds. They have in common a certain robust professionalism - the naive is not to be found here. I like work where the artist follows his own signs without dithering.
Take Maggi Hambling's work. It is professional and robust, and also magical, that indefinable quality which unites the best work in my corner and excludes work which may be professional and robust, but is also dull.
I have included works by a number of artists who are not professionals, in the sense of earning their keep by their art. I do not propose to pick them out here, but I believe in every case that the work achieves a professional standard. Amateur seems to be a word like naive, often used to conceal incompetence. By professional I mean the reverse of incompetence.
But there is one restriction on all these works, sculpture and paintings alike. They are small: some I think are too small to express to complete effect the particular vision. It might be happier if the terms of this exhibition allow in future for some larger work. Two of the painters I approached could not accept, because they felt unable to work on this scale. But in the works finally selected I hope the scale is apt and the magic not squeezed out.
Selector Profile: Marina Vaizey
Historians, with hindsight, categorise; we share a need, sometimes almost obsessional, to make patterns, to grasp order out of chaos. Sometimes all of our culture seems but a search, in turn enjoyable, marvellous, disturbing and frightening, and even all such feelings at once, for this mystical sense of rightness. We continually, self consciously or no, report to ourselves, evaluate, analyse. The intense appeal, importance, significance of artists is that they make so visible some alliance between the inner and outer worlds. The best sharpen our vision, enable us to find and see more, surprising, beautiful things. They question. The American poet E. E. Cummings put it very simply: always the beautiful answer who asks the beautiful question.
I have not been involved in this exhibition in a search for answers, but rather, the questions.
Each artist here, across a wide spectrum - some fully fledged in terms of the apparatus with which artists reach the public (shows in galleries, commercial and public, inclusions in private and public collections, critical appraisals, published appreciations and evaluations) other just emergent - asks questions and presents an array of responses.
These artists are working at a time when the edge of the debate in public and semi public forums is often concerned with the large scale, or the installation. The large scale is obviously often difficult to contain in the normal domestic scene, not only for the obvious reasons of room for display but also because it either dominates or becomes wall paper: nor can it be easily moved about. And, for many of us, one of the pleasures of art at home is making the familiar unfamiliar by changing its immediate context. The installation provides all these problems multiplied, as well as often being deliberately ephemeral.
Here there is an acknowledgement of art with which to live, by the deliberate restriction of scale, which for some artists results in a heightening of response by concentration.
I have chosen from the open submission, and by personal invitation, many (nothing like all I would have liked to have asked, and of course there were some who could not participate) who seem to fall overall - with exceptions, naturally - into two categories. On view are imaginative, individual myth makers, story tellers, narrators of frozen moments. And there are those who respond to the increasing and overwhelming amount of visual information and static with which we are inescapably surrounded by an essential refinement and distillation and concentration on colour, texture and form with but the subtlest of references to observed reality.
Selector Profile: John Ward
Painting, among other things, is an act of communication. Since the iconoclasm of the Art Establishment after the war, the rising painter was left seemingly unable to communicate with anyone except the new Establishment - Art Education and the Public Galleries where the New Thought deemed art should hang - while the smart galleries, realising that the old criteria for judging a painting had gone, substituted the new, novelty and money - the higher the price the better the work.
One has a strong suspicion that were some of these works put in a mixed exhibition with no names and an "everyday low price" nobody would notice them.
But a painter needs his punter and a punter needs to understand his painting without the help of a psychiatric report.
There has remained in this country and, as far as I have noticed in my travels, in this country only, a hard core of painters who have stayed true to the ideals that have held good in painting through many centuries. Today's rising painters are beginning to see what has been lost and, in spite of inadequate teaching, are producing work worthy of the name of painting. Just as there has been a core of painters, there has always been an unsung body of patrons who have, with their own money and often for very modest sums, bought what pleased them and answered their question "is it a good or a bad painting?".
This collection is an offering to those discerning eyes for whom "is it good?" is of paramount importance. Perhaps the 'Shock of the New' could be replaced by the 'Shock of the Good'?
Selector Profile: Glynn Williams
I was delighted to be asked to choose a section of this exhibition and particularly for the opportunity of bringing younger and lesser known artists into view.
I have always split my career between making my own sculpture and teaching the subject and this has given me a constant awareness of the younger sculptor's problems and concerns.
I have chosen several paintings to go into the show and have tried to pick ones which will work well and compliment the sculptures, without losing any of their own autonomy. However, I have tried to give sculpture a stronger presence in this year's show than it has had previously. When I think of sculpture in an exhibition, I think generally of large pieces that have a space requirement which relates to the body of the viewer.
An exhibition which is primarily of small works does pose some problems. For a piece of sculpture to have an autonomy and not appear to be just a model or a maquette it has to have its own sense of scale. Also a large number of small works all, necessarily, on plinths can look very messy. However, I have tried to overcome these problems by looking for sculpture that although small in size has a scale and autonomy. I have also tried to look for a balance between strong formal qualities and a sense of subject.
I believe the works I have chosen should make for a strong section to this exhibition. The selection from the open section was most intriguing. The taste of the selectors was not just varied but positively polarised, so the resulting exhibition as a whole should, literally, have something for all tastes. This fact has also helped me to avoid being too catholic in my own choice.