Derek Hill RA
Leslie Worth RWS
Fifth Exhibition – Opened by HRH The Prince of Wales
This year the fifth Discerning Eye Exhibition is opened by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.
As before, six selectors have made their choice of small works as their interpretation of the best of contemporary British art. Each selected section is hung separately so that there may be a distinct identity with its combination of established and less established or even unknown artists.
The Discerning Eye has one limitation and that is size. The effect is twofold. By showing only small pieces, more artists have the chance to exhibit, and works are small enough to be bought, carried back under arm and hung in any home or office space. Each selector is asked to pick over half of his selection from less established names. The Discerning Eye New Discovery Art Prizesare for these artists, and they are chosen by joint decision of the six selectors. Prize winners and past prize winners are invited to show other examples of their work during the exhibition in adjacent galleries. Some have rejoiced in considerable success in their subsequent careers and their works have become an important part of private and public collections.
The Discerning Eye is here to encourage the public to develop confidence and trust in its own judgment. This is, after all, what is meant when we say, "so-and-so's got a good eye". Don't open the catalogue straight away. Use your eye first.
The author of the introduction was not identified
The Discerning Eye would particularly like to thank the selectors: Martin Gayford, William Packer, William Boyd, Jonathan Watkins, Derek Hill and Leslie Worth who lavished so much energy on making their personal selections from an overwhelming artists' send-in, and who maintained an amazing level of concentration and cheer throughout.
HSBC Investment Bank plc generously stepped in to become the main sponsors of this year's exhibition. Special thanks go to Marjorie Stimmel - HSBC's Head of Public Affairs, and Mr and Mrs Asher - HSBC's Chairman and his wife, for their personal involvement in the exhibition.
This year The Discerning Eye received wonderful guidance and invaluable support from Betty Hicks to whom we are most grateful.
Browns Restaurants Ltd. have kindly sponsored the exhibition again, and we would like to welcome Jeremy and Hilary Mogford of Browns, on board, as directors.
We would like to thank all the many other prize givers involved in the exhibition for their ongoing encouragement to The Discerning Eye exhibition and its exhibitors, especially Mark Winthrop and Michael Harding at Atlantis, for their imaginative voucher scheme.
The Federation of British Artists who now provide our home base, both administer and host the exhibition at the Mall Galleries. A thank you to all their helpful staff, and a special thank you to Sheridan McLardy who has organised the exhibition this year with commitment above and beyond the call of duty.
The design for The Discerning Eye's new look comes thanks to the talent of Studio Gossett.
The Discerning Eye, conceived and nurtured by Michael Reynolds, Annabel Elton and Ian Laing, relies on the good will and imagination of many people. Our thanks to all of them for enabling this splendid and worthwhile exhibition to take place.
HSBC Investment Bank plc
Selector Profile: Derek Hill
Many years ago the present chairman of the Arts Council, when a schoolboy, asked me to give a lecture at college on collecting. There was a large audience and so I hoped to give advice as well as enthusiasm to the boys who came to listen.
The one essential priority, I told them, was never to collect anything merely because it was fashionable or avant garde. They were to use their own taste and to pick up whatever appealed to them, be it a pebble, a chunk of driftwood or a work of art. This could apply not only to a painting, a piece of sculpture but also to a piece of china or "object de vertu".
Never buy thinking the value or selling price might go up. Bernard Berenson used to deplore all people who knew the date of birth of a neglected Italian artist, but would never bother to pick up, hold and treasure some natural object found on the beach or in a wood. Berenson probably had the most discerning eye I ever encountered. Use your eyes and not just a discerning mercenary calculation all your lives.
Derek Hill RHA August 1996 ~ portrait painter, landscape artist and lover of life
Selector Profile: Leslie Worth
Apparently on first seeing the pyramids of Egypt, Ruskin exclaimed "Now size really matters!".
This exhibition is unique in a number of respects. One, the works are all small, the largest dimension not exceeding twenty inches. How refreshing from our spate of huge self-declamatory exhibitions. Secondly, works by well known and less known artists hang cheek by jowl, sharing the same walls. And thirdly, the selectors representing critics, collectors and painters, could indulge their preferences and perhaps prejudices with impunity and enthusiasm.
And what enthusiasm! For two days we sifted through over two thousand works with delight, dismay and sometimes sheer amazement – and never a cross word between us; reducing the send-in to a manageable – hopefully balanced show of less than four hundred.
It has been a privilege to witness a wide spectrum of talent and to share in the preferences of others and above all encourage those artists, perhaps only known to oneself, but whose abilities will shortly be revealed to a wider and hopefully impressed audience.
One final word, a profound thank you to the organisers and gallery staff who did all the donkey work – ministering to us, guiding and bearing with us over this rewarding experience.
Leslie Worth PPRWS RBA ARCA FRSA August 1996 ~ artist, teacher and author.
Formerly President of the Royal Watercolour Society & Keeper of the Royal Society of British Artists
Selector Profile: William Boyd
Paul Valery, a great poet, from time to time wrote about art. In 1932, in an aside during an essay on Manet, he declared that "The supreme object of art is charme, a term which I use here in all its force". I leave the word in French because 'charm', as we understand it in English, does no justice to the concept in translation. Charme, in contrast, has a gravitas of its own, which I take to mean here a kind of aesthetic thrill or exaltation - genuine, unique and unmistakable. Something felt in the nape of the neck rather than the cerebellum.
This thrill can be major or minor, fortissimo or muted, but I feel sure that is what we seek when we contemplate a picture, any picture, and we recognise it instinctively.
There is another level of engagement beyond this, however. We also appreciate the means by which this end was achieved. Sometimes - rarely - it may be serendipitous, but mostly it is the result of effort, skill and technique - and this applies equally to figurative or abstract art. I will quote Valery again, on Veronese this time: to be a great artist, he says, "extreme virtuosity is indispensable" ("L'extrème de la virtuosité lui est indispensable"). These are the touchstones which should direct our judgment and determine our pleasure.
William Boyd July 1996 ~ William Boyd is a novelist and screen writer. His novels include 'A Good Man in Africa','The New Confessions', and his most recent 'The Blue Afternoon'.
Selector Profile: Jonathan Watkins
I remember being told by an optician that I had 'good' eyes. I was three years old at the time and being fitted with my first pair of glasses. I had good eyes but they were the wrong shape. Since then I have always worn glasses, each pair with lenses thicker than the last.
Following an adolescent religious phase, a close friend of mine came to believe fervently in Art. Art was distinct from life, surely – otherwise why had works of art been sieved out from quotidian phenomena from time immemorial ? - and he wanted to be an artist. I mean an Artist, like Whistler. He spent years, unsuccessfully, trying to work out what it was exactly that made art look different.
Recently someone gave me Patrick Trevor-Roper's book The World Through Blunted Sight. It examines the ways in which defective vision can be related to character, creativity and style.
Apparently, "among artists not only does myopia predominate, but such myopic artists, when they cannot manage without their glasses, rarely like having their myopia fully neutralised, and prefer to paint 'uncorrected'".
In his search for Art my friend stumbled across Duchamp and now he believes that art has more to do with 'grey matter' than with 'aesthetic delectation'. He has been unnaturally constant in this proto-post-modernist faith but, you never know, an imminent mid-life crisis might change everything.
I have a daughter, three years old, and she seems to me to be the most beautiful thing in the world. Perhaps she is a work of art. Perhaps she is an artist.
Jonathan Watkins August 1996 ~ Jonathan Watkins is the curator at the Serpentine Gallery
Selector Profile: Martin Gayford
As an exercise in tense, not to say competitive, practical criticism, taking part in The Discerning Eye would be hard to beat. Not only does one have to commit oneself on the spot to works in the open section - sight unseen, not knowing the name of the artist - but one also has to do so quick as a flash. Otherwise, you see, some other Discerning Eye may nab it.
This is a salutary exercise. How often, with chagrin, one sees the point in a piece just after another selector has commandeered it. Indeed, it is true to say that as soon as someone declares a liking for a picture, it immediately looks more interesting. No doubt, by the way, this psychological law applies throughout the world of art and beyond.
Consequently, what I have on display from the open submission represents only what I was able to whisk away from beneath the eagle eyes of my colleagues. Nonetheless, I proudly feel that I have bagged some very fine pictures, of various kinds. I am also pleased and grateful to all the distinguished and exciting artists who have accepted my invitation to exhibit here.
For me this has been an exercise in the discovery of my own taste. If a theme emerges, it is only, I think that quality exists these days in many diverse forms and ways, abstract, figurative, and various places in between.
Martin Gayford August 1996 ~ Martin Gayford is a freelance art and jazz critic, writing regularly for The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Spectator & Modern Painters
Selector Profile: William Packer
In making my selection for the exhibition, I followed no rigid policy or preference, which is not to say that I had no policy at all. I was resolved not to be seduced by imagery or pattern for its own sake, which flatters so often only to deceive, in small pictures most of all. The more obviously illustrative the work, the more resistible I found it. On the other hand, abstract work on this necessarily small scale so often gets lost in the crowd, and indeed its comparative rarity in the submission was perhaps tacit recognition of this truth. I made a point of looking out for it.
But, abstract or figurative, in the event it was the actual quality of the work itself, in the drawing and in the handling of the paint on the surface, its technical command andauthority, that had to be persuasive. There proved to be more than enough of such stuff to make for a harsh and difficult final choice.
If I was disappointed, it was only in the paucity, indeed virtual absence of distinguished objective painting worked directly and unself-consciously from the subject, especially the figure - but that is a sign of the times. What was fascinating was to see how my fellow selectors set about the same task, each in his own way - but that is another story.
William Packer August 1996 ~ William Packer has been the art critic for the Financial Times since 1974. He is also a painter, having studied at Wimbledon School of Art, and his recent shows include a solo show at the Piers Feetham Gallery and 'Critical Landscape' with Giles Auty and William Feaver at Cadogan Contemporary.