Daphne Todd OBE PPRP NEAC
Griff Rhys Jones
As you will see from your visit to our annual exhibition, artists submitting their work to Discerning Eye, and those whose work is chosen by the selectors, represent a wide range of styles and offer a variety of subjects using conventional as well as more experimental media. You will see the work of painters in oils, watercolours and acrylics as well as pencil, pen and ink and charcoal drawings. Potters and sculptors are represented, and the exhibitors are drawn from across the country. Some are well known artists, others enjoying their first opportunity to show their work in a major London exhibition. However different the media or the choice of subject matter, all of the works on show have one feature in common. None of the exhibits is larger than 20 inches by 20 inches. The restriction on size is one of the defining conditions of Discerning Eye and has been since its inception some ten years ago. This restriction is debated almost every year and arguments are put forward for and against its retention. Some consider the imposition of the "20 inch rule" to be arbitrary and inhibiting, and there is no doubt that there are some artists who will not submit their work because of it. On the other hand, I have talked to many painters, sculptors, and potters who have exhibited at Discerning Eye, and who have been challenged and stimulated by the need to work to smaller dimensions than they would otherwise have considered.
Discerning Eye is unique. It is an exhibition with no single curator, its content dependent on the personal tastes of six selectors – two artists, two collectors and two critics – free to choose the work that they like; provided of course that their chosen pieces measure no more than 20 by 20 inches.
Discerning Eye is unashamedly an exhibition of domestic sized art, and there is a well-documented history of antagonism between twentieth century art and architecture, and the values associated with domesticity. Perhaps the most quoted modernist against domestic art was Le Corbusier. He railed against what he described as, the sentimental hysteria surrounding the cult of the house, determined instead to create the house as a machine for living in.
Writing in 1904 the German critic, Julius Meier Graefe claimed that the 'retrogression' of popular painting was due to a decline in church patronage and a concomitant rise in art made for houses.
Art under such conditions ceases to be divine, she is no longer the enchantress … but rather a gentle little housewife, who surrounds us with tender attentions, and eagerly produces the sort of things that will distract tired people after a day’s work.
In his introduction to a book called 'Not At Home', published in 1996 and sub-titled 'The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art and Architecture', Christopher Reed strongly defended the relevance of 'domestic art' forecasting that, "the domestic is returning to a position of cultural prominence."
I think you will agree that the integrity and vitality of the work which makes Discerning Eye 2002 one of our most successful exhibitions, speaks as powerfully as any expert words on the true value of domestic art.
And for that we owe our thanks to all of the artists who took the time and trouble to submit their work for selection, as well as to those whose work was selected. We are also grateful to our six selectors who spent many hours carefully evaluating the hundreds of works from the public submission.
The exhibition itself would not be possible without the generous support given by ING. This is the fourth year of their sponsorship of Discerning Eye – and theirs is sponsorship in the true sense of the word because their support extends beyond money.
John Caine MBE FRSA
Size matters! Of this I have little doubt. Scale is something that artists take very seriously when creating work, curators must consider it when placing and exhibiting work and collectors are well advised to reflect on it when buying work.
When the artist picks out a canvas size, or decides upon the dimensions of a work, it is often a deliberate statement integral to the piece. Whether a work is big or small is a decision that can change the nature and impact of the work. Current trends, particularly in public art, and the architecture that houses public collections, is to work large - no, make that very large. And while some of these huge artistic expressions are undoubtedly great works of art, others can assume that grand scale is interesting enough on its own. I disagree. I have often heard artists admit that it can present a greater challenge to create powerful ‘big’ work within constrained physical parameters. Limitations can focus the mind, bringing sharpness and clarity. It may be a cliché, but less can often be more.
Smaller works of art have other advantages too. Not many of us can boast a garden fit to house a Henry Moore, or the bank balance to even entertain the idea! Small works are portable, easy to live with, and are usually more affordable. If you are a collector of artworks, or have never bought a piece before but think you might like to try, original works of art on an intimate scale can bring a lot of pleasure hanging on your walls at home, sitting on a mantelpiece, floor, windowsill or plinth.
What to buy, and where to buy it from, can sometimes be a barrier which is why there are lots of good things about a project like The Discerning Eye. The range of artists exhibited runs from the well-established, house-hold names to the unknown and recently graduated, the panel of respected selectors making informed and personal choices, and the number of exhibits – something for everyone – are all reasons which should give visitors and potential buyers' confidence in any choice they might make. But best of all, the concentration of an idea, of a concept, that has invited 600 artists to create or exhibit work within the set limitations and confines of size, provides us with invaluable opportunity to see a huge variety of responses to the same challenge, manifested in all kinds of media and shape, all in the same place, at the same time, and all of which we could, should we wish to, find a home for.
Colette Bailey - Managing Director, Royal Society of British Sculptors 1999 - 2002
ING Group is one of the world's leading financial institutions; its offices in 65 countries make it a truly global company. With over 110,000 employees and some €480 billion assets under management, ING seeks to provide a full range of integrated financial services to personal, corporate and institutional clients.
In the UK the wholesale banking activities of ING Barings, Charterhouse Securities, ING Bank, BBL and BHF are integrated, creating one structure, one leadership and a joint strategy under the ING brand.
In 2002 ING is delighted to continue its relationship with The Discerning Eye by acting as sponsor of The Discerning Eye Exhibition for the fourth consecutive year. Sponsorship of the exhibition forms part of ING's broad commitment to the arts across the world. We are grateful for the recognition we have received from Arts & Business who made us, for the second year running, an award winner under their New Partners Scheme on account of our sponsorship of The Discerning Eye 2001 Exhibition.
Our relationship with The Discerning Eye has been particularly fruitful and innovative this year. During the summer, in partnership with The Discerning Eye and Arts & Business, we held two very successful 'Art in the Community' exhibitions in our offices at 60 London Wall. The Student Sale featured the work of undergraduates at the Frink School of Sculpture, Wimbledon School of Art and Cheltenham School of Art. The Studio Sale featured the work of members of Core Arts, St John in Hackney Community Space Centre, North Tyneside Art Studio, South Tyneside Art Studio and the Art Studio Sunderland; all these studios promote art as a means of building confidence and good mental health. Sales of pictures and objects vastly exceeded expectations and the events were thoroughly enjoyed by the artists, our staff and our visitors to 60 London Wall.
We now look forward to the success of The Discerning Eye's 2002 exhibition; it continues to be one of the most important events in the UK's art calendar. ING is proud to support a charity whose dedication to individuality and excellence has ensured, for the eleventh consecutive year, an immensely professional and highly regarded platform for the exhibition of artistic talent from across the country.
We at ING very much hope you enjoy the exhibition.
Igno van Waesberghe
Head of UK Region
Selector Profile: Graham Crowley
Small paintings, at their best, have something unique to offer the viewer - intimacy. Intimacy affords the artist an opportunity to speculate.
Qualities which would normally be inappropriate in a larger work thrive. Small paintings can be exquisite, tentative and fragile. Small paintings can embrace uncertainty without seeming flawed. By the same token small paintings demand a kind of accuracy on the part of the artist, accuracy of intention.
I have selected a wide range of work. This reflects the fact that quality doesn\’t reside in style or subject.
I hope some of the fascination, enthralment and pleasure that I experienced in selecting the work is shared with you the viewer.
Selector Profile: Daphne Todd OBE
My selection is quite unfair, I want to make that absolutely clear. The Discerning Eye is a peculiar exhibition, wonderful in its way for showing (up?) the taste and foibles of individual selectors as for the opportunity it provides for the known and unknown to exhibit their work side by side, all cut down to size, as it were.
So there isn’t the usual majority vote from the panel, the procedure with which I am so familiar from years of selecting for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. Even that entirely democratic process can result in injustice. Good works sometimes slip through the net while mediocre remain. But at least a degree of defence is provided against bias and cronyism.
Here, I make no bones of the fact that my six invited artists are well known to me, indeed a couple are close friends from my student days at the Slade; others are admired mentors. I am grateful to each of them for adding their lustre. All are figurative, as in my choice from the open submission. My prerogative: I find figurative work more deeply satisfying than any other.
I detect the use and effect of photography in some works but on the whole I have favoured those that rely more on the naked eye (and heart). Sadly, there seemed to be precious few such amongst the huge 2000 plus send in. What a shame.
Painting from life, at its best, is incredibly exciting. So many figurative works today, especially from the young, rely on photographs as their only source material. I'm often asked when painting a portrait, "Wouldn't it be much easier to do it from a photograph?"
"What is 'it'?" I ask.
If 'it' is using my brain to select information collected with my own two eyes from the constantly-changing patterns in the 3-D world "out there" with which to construct a unique 2-D image, then a dead little scrap of a photograph is no use to me at all!
Some artists use photography intelligently as a tool but I have tried here to choose works that have not lost sight of our richly human response to the real world. The sheer impossibility of adequately describing our visual experience perhaps explains why greatness is in short supply. But it leads, positively, to the hugely enjoyable diversity of these works, each of which will repay a lifetime's scrutiny.
Take one home and SEE.
Selector Profile: Crispin Odey
What a treat to leave behind plunging stockmarkets and be entertained to 2,400 works of art. It was interesting to see Lucien Freud's influence on the portraits produced and the waning of the Rothko-esque genre. In the game of snap that we as a hanging committee practiced there was no rival to Richard Littlejohn, but I am pleased to have one or two gems to show you.
Selector Profile: Griff Rhys Jones
It is a difficult thing to parade your own choice of art in public. The truth is, though, that I do like pictures very much. I especially like intimate pictures, what you might call private pictures. This exhibition, with its very particular restrictions, seems to cater directly for that fetish.
I love painting. I love the presentation of colour and light, and the way the physical world strikes us, as processed through somebody else\’s imagination. I like daubs, representations, sketches, impressions. I like the successful grapple with the nature of the image.
In these days of challenge and concept, this is clearly a restricted and fuddy-duddy view, but, as far as I can tell, if art aspires to be an orthodoxy at all, and why it should do so defeats me, but if it does, it cannot possibly be one single orthodoxy, any more than some tyrannical coterie could insist that there was only one acceptable way of writing. Bold statements such as "all art has to be novel", or "art must always disturb", as one gallery owner told me with the help of an index finger, have no logical foundation at all. It would deny Bernini, Praxitiles and Jimmy Pike at a stroke.
And anyway I like high concept art. I swoon before Jeff Koons. But that huge metallic balloon dog of his that they showed at the RA a while back, was much more than a public statement.
It worried me, as it happens, because somehow it was both the thing itself, a nasty vulgar balloon dog, and yet a hugely, mysteriously, beautiful object. It didn’t shock me. Shocking is easy. It disconcerted me, which is much more difficult. But there was another thing that made it more fascinating than the rest of the stuff there. Despite its size, it was not really a great public statement. It was a little private communion on the grand scale.
The Victorians were fond of vast moral statements in their art. They seem kitschly ludicrous to us now: Orchard's parables, all those brave old soldiers, Holman Hunt's piety. They leave me cold. Those of very strong opinions never quite appreciate how relative they will soon seem. Today, of course, we have a different set of moral statements that must find utterance, mainly, as far as I can tell, about our hypocrisy or our sexuality or our political beliefs. They are just as trite as those Victorians, in a way that a Boudin cow study or a Howard Hodgkin can never be. "Relevance" seems deeply unimportant in visual communion. We, as long as we remain human beings, will always see. We will always respond individually to what we see.
I hope you find your own private moments here. I hugely enjoyed choosing them for you. These paintings are for sale. You can take them home. They would seem out of place in a huge gallery, just as a dissected cow might be in your house. (Unless, of course, you’ve got a chest freezer.) They are for you, individually, subjectively, faithfully. Long live intimate, unpublic, non-gallery, bourgeois painting, I say. It looks good on the stairs.
Selector Profile: Anthony Lester
I first became an art 'junkie' when, as a schoolboy, I purchased at auction a wonderfully fluid but masterfully controlled watercolour by the Scottish painter William McTaggart (1835-1910). The cost: a mere five shillings (25p). Oh, happy days! Since those bygone years my taste in art has gone from conservative to what I now like to think is eclectic, which in turn, I hope is reflected in my Discerning Eye selection.
There may be wide differences between Antony Williams' direct and intense realist compositions, George Large's complex, primary idiosyncratic coloured images, Tom Coates' vivacious brushwork and Matthew Smith's textured abstracts with their mystical undertones but in each I see artists who know their craft. For me, the overriding ingredient in any work of art is quality, with the occasional bit of waggishness thrown in! What I have learned when considering the merits of fine art is that there is neither old or new, only good or bad.
As with all the arts, making the big time as a painter or sculptor, is down in part to talent but also to a good deal of luck and, of course, to marketing and publicity.
In an exemplary world every work of art would be judged on its individual merits, but that is 'not' how it is. So having one's handiwork seen in the market place is critical and that is what makes this exciting exhibition so relevant, particularly for those taking their first few steps along the road to recognition. And there is good news for such artists, because with the current rumbling bear market more and more people are turning to contemporary art as an alternative money haven.
Making my selection from over 2000 submitted works was daunting but highly pleasurable. I have little doubt that some worthy pieces slipped through the net and to those who were not selected I say, if you believe in your talent, keep trying.
It was, I believe, the 17th French master, Nicolas Poussin, who said that paintings should have no other aim than the delectation and joy of the eyes. I share this sentiment (the William McTaggart I bought all those years ago continues to gratify) and hope that others will enjoy viewing my Discerning Eye selection as much as I have enjoyed putting the group together.
Selector Profile: Richard Littlejohn
It seemed like a good idea at the time. When Penny Gammond invited me to be a Discerning Eye selector, I was flattered. I've never thought of myself as a connoisseur, merely an enthusiastic amateur. Like most of us, I suspect, I know what I like and tend to like what I know.
I've no artistic training. Professionally, I do words, not pictures. So this gave me an opportunity to broaden my horizons and my education. Picking a few pictures for an exhibition couldn't be that difficult, could it? Gizza job, I thought, I can do that. As the day approached, I began to have second thoughts. Who the hell did I think I was to sit in judgment on artists? I can't even paint a skirting board.
I took heart from the fact that some of the most recent works I'd bought had shown well in competition. So I must have some eye for what's good and what's not, even if the most technically accomplished often leave me as cold as an eskimo's kiss.
When it comes to judging the Discerning Eye, first impressions are lasting impressions. The sheer volume of work submitted means sometimes you have only seconds to choose.
The competition between the judges for the very best is friendly but fierce. If you're not quick off the mark, you're left with the fish John West reject.
Fortunately, the judges had eclectic tastes and I'm delighted with my selection. That doesn't mean that those artists who didn't make the cut were without merit. They shouldn't lose heart. There's always next year and a new set of Discerning Eyes.