Diana Armfield RA
The Marquess of Bath
John Caine MBE FRSA
I am very excited at the prospect of my first Discerning Eye Exhibition as Chairman albeit a little daunted at the prospect of taking over after John Caine's successful five year tenure. I would like to take this opportunity to thank John for all his hard work and I am delighted that he remains not only on the board but also that he has agreed to chair the Discerning Eye debate again this year which he does with great style.
This special, unique and accessible exhibition is the result of much hard work from many people but particularly from the artists, selectors, Tony Humphreys (our Chief Executive) and his board and Parker Harris, the organisers. I would like to extend a huge thank you to them all for their efforts.
We are also very fortunate with our sponsors, ING, whose support and enthusiasm goes far beyond just writing the cheque. Special thanks go to John Orbell and his team at ING who work so closely with the Discerning Eye team. I hope that this exhibition gives you much pleasure and that you find a work of art to enhance or even begin your collection.
Small is beautiful
It is in the second-hand art market, not the new, that the most accurate judgements of quality are made. Artists and dealers may price paintings by their size but, watching a sale at Christie's or Sotheby's, the spectator will at once see that size does not matter, that size is an irrelevant criterion, and that the bids are made, not for acreage, but for beauty and distinction, perfection and pre-eminence, and that for a fine Augustus John or Sickert, the price for each square inch of a small panel is likely to exceed by far the figure for each square, foot of flapping canvas. Small in art is not necessarily beautiful, but it very often encapsulates all that a painter has to say, swiftly succinctly and straight to the essential point, and does not clutter the images with afterthought and superfluous embellishment.
Small, however, has small chance in the field of the art prize and competition. Was the Turner Prize ever given for small work? Does the Royal Academy ever give its annual prize for 'the most distinguished work' of the year to anything diminutive? Of all the significant prizes given every year only the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery can occasionally be described as not influenced by size. Size looks impressive on a distant wall or over the heads of massed drinkers at a vernissage. Size looks convincing to our ignorant press and makes a better publicity photograph. Size pleases the sponsors, for feet match the money and millimetres do not. No judges would now give a prize to Elsheimer for the tiny paintings on copper that so delighted Rembrandt, nor to Goya for his etchings of The Disasters of War, nor to Paul Maitland for his poetic views of Kensington Gardens painted on the lids of cigar boxes - yet all these men were masters and made small masterpieces. Now we prefer to reward the flashy and the obvious, the unmanageable and the cumbersome, the impossible to house in any normal circumstance, no matter how shallow the content and how transitory our enjoyment of it.
This has been the case for decades. It was Michael Reynolds, a painter on all sorts of scales, not only small, who late in the 1980s started the quiet rebellion against the empty and futile bombast of then contemporary art. A slow business, support was almost always in words and rarely deeds; sponsorship was not eager and space not volunteered, but with perseverance and a certain capacity for wiliness, he eventually achieved the first Discerning Eye in 1990. It was an uncertain start, and it faltered, almost terminally, but not before it had gained the energetic sympathisers who were, in time, to set it on its present course. As Michael Reynolds faded, others took the baton.
I worked twice with Michael. We saw every single work of art submitted - well over 3,000 in both years - held them in our hands, propped them on our knees, discussed them in detail, gave ourselves time to respond to them and eased the chores of judging for those judges who had less time and energy than we. No one could have been fairer or more generous than Michael, his patience and diligence inexhaustible, his eye discerning merit even when that rare commodity seemed to the rest of us to be entirely absent. I learned a great deal from him, far more than from, dare I say it, the President of the Royal Academy who was our partner the first year. He set a pattern of judging that is far more just and wise than that of any other prize on which I have worked, a pattern driven only by the search for quality, not by any art-political agenda.
As a consequence The Discerning Eye is different from all other prize-awarding exhibitions, not a party to any influence, tendency or faction, and utterly fair, reasonable and sane but for its mantra and its raison d'être - small is beautiful and that is an engaging madness that has my unquestioning support.
ING Bank London is once again delighted to be sponsoring The Discerning Eye Exhibition. It is the fifth consecutive year in which we have been associated with this important event in the UK's art calendar.
ING Group is one of the world's leading financial institutions. It has offices in 65 countries and some €452.4 billion assets under management. While ING Bank in London is primarily responsible for ING's wholesale banking activities in the UK, ING's other activities in the UK reflect the diversity of the Group's activities in banking, asset management and real estate. Since May of this year, this now includes ING Direct - the world's leading direct savings bank.
Our connection with the visual arts is well established. At our London headquarters we have a fine collection of Modern British art, British watercolours and historical portraits. In our global headquarters in Amsterdam we have an extensive collection of contemporary Dutch art.
We have many groups of visitors to the bank to look at the collection and we also use our exhibition space to show the works of promising young artists who are seeking to make a name for themselves.
As a result of our sponsorship of the annual Discerning Eye Exhibition we have benefited from projects undertaken in partnership with The Discerning Eye and Arts & Business under the latter's New Partners Scheme. We have also embarked on our own project with a number of secondary schools whereby students have made interpretations of pictures in our collection.
We wish The Discerning Eye every success in its 2003 exhibition. ING is proud to support a charity whose dedication to individuality and excellence has ensured, for the twelfth consecutive year. an immensely professional and highly regarded platform for the exhibition of artistic talent from across the country.
Igno van Waesberghe
Head of UK Region
Selector Profile: Diana Armfield RA
What a privilege it is to be asked to choose the artists who will provide between them sixty works, to be hung with another twenty selected from a very big submission. The 'invited' artists' work could show what I really admire in the work of fellow painters.
I'm delighted to have been asked, but what will the wall look like? I selected the artists not their work! It certainly won't turn out as I first visualized.
I think of works themselves, my own rather particularly, as I think of grown up children; they seldom turn out as originally conceived, but instead, at some stage, take on their own development. That is part of the mystery of creating anything. However, I do look forward with enthusiastic confidence to seeing all the works my selected artists have chosen to send and of course the work of the artists of my co-selectors.
My list was made mostly from figurative artists, who have seemed to me, over the years, and however different their styles, to admire even love or feel sympathy for their subject matter, relish their chosen medium, the craft underpinning their artistry, and have also managed to use their minds! Just as important they all draw. I have also asked several painters who lean towards abstraction because they too seem to me to exhibit an approach that is generous in conception and celebratory. I have included artists of considerable reputation and those whose talents have yet to be fully recognized, and I have representation from most parts of the country.
I fully support the limitation. A few artists do need huge areas to best express their intentions, and most of us learn from attempting larger scale endeavours at intervals but the results are not necessarily right for exhibition. Most artists gain periodically from an imposed limitation; it can concentrate the mind and a small scale often seems to intensify the vision.
The twenty works added from the open submission might make clearer the intended 'note' from each selector, because each of us will be choosing the actual works. But there again, co-selectors will be calling out to claim particular works and they may be too quick off the mark for me! I may find that I am just hoping to add works of outstanding merit regardless of the approach. Their work will be contributing to an exhibition which we hope the public will both thoroughly enjoy, and among that public we hope there will be lots with deep enough pockets to allow them to carry off work to appreciate at home.
Selector Profile: The Marquess of Bath
I regard myself as being equally a painter and a writer. What I am currently writing is an autobiography with most of it already written. It stands at some 7 million words encompassing all that I have ever written, both novels and poetry. By the end of it I am hoping that it will portray my complete attitude to life in all its colour and complexity. It is an attempt to make the whole man come alive in my complete individualism. And the attitude of Individualism is conveyed to the reader, covering all aspects of it such as my Pantheism in religion, my Wessex Regionalism within a framework of World Government, where my politics are concerned, and my personal efforts to promote Polygamy within a Polymorphous Society, when it comes to family morality.
As far as my painting is concerned, my work derives from the Neo-Expressionist school. I admire strong colour and some degree of distortion with caricature. But I also collect paintings that have been done by contemporary West Country artists, in order to give a savour of how our local Wessex individualism might gradually be coming into shape. There are some examples of the work by these artists that I am putting on show here in this exhibition.
Quite apart from my appreciation of colour, form and atmosphere within a painting, I also enjoy the whisper of some literary element that invokes the imaginative perception of some story that might be involved within the pictorial telling of any particular tale. That is the character within which my own murals at Longleat might be described, although the sculptural and textural elements become especially important in those.
Selector Profile: Bob Boas
It was very flattering to be asked to be one of the selectors for The Discerning Eye. I have enjoyed the experience hugely. Firstly in being able to invite artists whose work I admire to send in paintings and secondly in participating with the other selectors in the process of choosing paintings from the many open submissions.
I have a visual mind and have always been interested in the visual arts. Having painted quite a lot in my teens and early twenties, I have bought paintings whenever I could afford to. In fact collecting has become quite addictive.
In my undergraduate days at Cambridge I was for a year or so a reviewer of art exhibitions. But I came to the conclusion that a critics role should be very limited. Works of art should "speak for themselves" and if they need explanation in words then it means something is missing in the works themselves.
To me the visual arts are all about a real feeling for light colour and form in no particular order of importance.
The works themselves should demonstrate the artists mastery of the innate qualities of the media he has used. I hope this comes through in the works which I have chosen.
Selector Profile: Desmond Shawe-Taylor
Those of you who know Norton Juster's strange curriculum allegory The Phantom Tollbooth will remember the moment when guests at a Royal banquet in Dictionopolis make speeches and are then required to eat their words. The gormless Milo orders himself a very unappetising 'Your Majesty, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to take this opportunity to say that in all the...' Those more on the ball make speeches along the lines of 'Roast Turkey, mashed potatoes, etc.' Selecting for the Discerning Eye is rather like this - no time for pompous self-justification, you just have to speak up and eat your words.
As I write this I am wondering what my selection will look like and what rationale could possibly lie behind the choice. In some ways it is easier to say what I don't like than what I do. I hate cymbals. Their ugly, unpitched and unrhythmic noise serves only to add a spurious zing to the sound of an orchestra in passages of manufactured excitement. In art there is much that can similarly ginger up an image, without contributing a jot to its harmony or structure - jarring colour, 'zingy' paint application and tactical ugliness. Much art of today (and in the past for that matter) seems to be scored for a consort of cymbals.
At the same time there are so many artists who allow the force of their images to emerge, without needing to be 'cymballed-up'. I personally prefer those images which arise from the discipline of an intensely observed interpretation of the world, but that's just me. This type of work probably doesn't catch your eye on a Web-Site, but it might still haunt or surprise you years after having bought it and hung it in the spare bedroom. The Discerning Eye is an ideal place to find such works. Please buy some and see how they fare.
Selector Profile: John Caine MBE FRSA
The first painting I ever bought was a portrait of my sister which I had commissioned when she was twelve and I was seventeen. In case that sounds a bit grand, or precocious, I should explain that the picture was painted by my then art teacher at Salford Grammar School and it cost five pounds. I paid him for the work by very irregular installments.
That portrait now hangs in my sister's house in Atlanta. It has given her and her family many years of pleasure, evoked a life time of memories and prompted countless reminiscences - all for a fiver. That's the thing about paintings, and for that matter drawings, etchings, sculpture and most creative art work. The pleasure given by the work is endless, it is a pleasure that grows with sharing, and it is a pleasure that cannot be measured in monetary terms.
To be a selector for Discerning Eye was for me both a pleasure and a privilege. Once started on the selection - a process which took two days and during which we looked at around two thousand submissions; a growing awareness of responsibility and humility quickly developed. The other selectors and I were faced with a difficult - if not impossible task.
The six selectors do not work as a panel. So the work on show has not been chosen by committee. On the contrary, since its inauguration the defining characteristic of the Discerning Eye exhibition is the fact that it represents the personal, even the idiosyncratic taste of the individual selectors. The most exciting and perhaps the most daunting aspect of my own experience as a Discerning Eye selector; is the knowledge that I cannot pass on the responsibility for the work exhibited in my section of the catalogue. It does feel almost as if I have put myself on show, along side the artists.
I hope that those who come to see the exhibition will derive as much pleasure from the work on view, as I have in being part of the selection process.
Selector Profile: Rachel Campbell-Johnston
Being invited to make a selection for the Discerning Eye exhibition is a bit like being asked to be a judge at a village pet show. How can you decide? You can no more say that one person's vision is better than another's, than you can choose between a ginger guinea pig and a stripy garter snake.
In the end, all you can do is go by your instincts. And even that's pretty dodgy. Your eyes soon get dizzy from looking at so much.
I have no idea whether I will be surprised or stunned or disappointed when I finally see all the things that I have selected hung together. But I suppose its exactly that sort of unexpectedness that is the point - and the pleasure - of the Discerning Eye show.