Alan Grieve CBE
Visiting the selection day in September made me realise what a wonderful range of styles and artists, both well known and some on the road to being well known, we have on display at the exhibition - our only constraint being size.
So very many thanks to the artists, our six selectors and my fellow board members of The Discerning Eye for all their efforts in making this such a unique exhibition.
The exhibition itself would not be possible without the generous support given by ING. I recently attended a wonderful exhibition in their offices of one hundred paintings selected by one hundred members of ING's staff which fully demonstrates that their support extends far beyond money.
I would also like to say a very special thank you to John Orbell who retires this year from ING. His enthusiastic support of The Discerning Eye has been a significant factor in its success over the last four years. I hope you all enjoy this fantastic exhibition.
Robert J Benton
Prince’s Drawing School
In four years The Prince's Drawing School has established itself as a lively and unique institution, the only art school in the UK to concentrate on drawing. Its main aim is to teach drawing to young artists who may have had little or no drawing teaching at art school. This is achieved through the MA level programme, the Drawing Year.
The Drawing School is an independent educational charity set up by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2000 for students from all backgrounds. It offers 30 courses a week with an average of 500 students each term, including children from inner city secondary schools. The teaching studios are in a converted warehouse in Shoreditch, one of London's liveliest cultural quarters, but courses are also conducted in galleries and in the open air.
Throughout the year there are exhibitions of student and faculty work both at the School and in galleries around the UK. A highlight is the Drawing Year's end-of-year show during September and October. Prizes are awarded to students on the strength of their work in this exhibition. In 2003 the top prize was the The Discerning Eye travel award, given to former BP Portrait Award winner Stuart Pearson-Wright. Stuart is using the Discerning Eye £1000 prize to travel to Sri Lanka, focusing on the work which he finds inspiring - sculpture, mask making and two dimensional pieces.
The Prince's Drawing School is delighted to be associated with the Discerning Eye.
Finding a theme for the opening of such a dynamic and diversified exhibition is just as challenging for the sponsor as it is for the selectors to decide what will hang on the walls and represent their name.
This year we have given the opening days of The Discerning Eye a Georgian flavour to mark the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase - a financial transaction that saw the size of the United States double and one in which, through our predecessor business Baring Brothers, we played a leading role.
Today ING is one of the world's leading financial institutions, with 113,000 employees around the world and some €491 billion assets under management. ING Bank in London is primarily responsible for ING's wholesale banking activities in the UK, while other ING UK companies cover direct savings banking, asset management, real estate and leasing.
Now in its sixth year, our relationship with The Discerning Eye has been especially fruitful and innovative this year. In October, in partnership with them and with Arts & Business, we organised an exhibition featuring one hundred pictures selected by one hundred staff members drawn from across ING's businesses in the UK. The exhibition aimed to bring together employees from all our different UK businesses and encourage them to become directly engaged in the visual arts.
The exhibition was a huge success and demonstrates how important the arts can be in playing a role in uniting people - regardless of their knowledge or background.
We wish the The Discerning Eye exhibition every success in 2004, with high attendance and many sales, so that it maintains its reputation as a leading and unique event in London's art calendar.
Igno van Waesberghe
CEO, ING UK and Ireland
Selector Profile: Anita Taylor
To put together a collection of work is something I am rarely privileged to do. It has been a pleasure to find myself in the situation of being able to select work I both care about and believe in for an exhibition.
The vagaries of the open submission 'bidding process' amongst and in competition with fellow selectors, added to the experience of 'collecting', of being at auction, bartering, instantaneously making decisions about ork one might want to recognise, retain, and to 'possess' in your own selection.
The artists I have invited are making some outstanding contributions to our visual culture, paradoxically, such people are sometimes overlooked in the hurly burly of the commercial world, despite their individual dedication and the resonance of their work. I would not wish to categorise them as young or old, or fashionable or forgotten, but they all share, and demonstrate, a passion for art and the power of visual language. Their dynamic interest in the world is captivating, and their commitment is without question. I hope that you, with me, will enjoy their work.
Selector Profile: Peter Randall-Page
It has been a great privilege and a great pleasure to be asked to select work for this years Discerning Eye exhibition.
I was an invited artist myself some years ago when Steven Tumin asked me to show, so I feel a little like poacher turned gamekeeper.
My original idea was to theme the selection quite tightly around certain issues which are currently preoccupying me in my own practice. I am increasingly involved in an enquiry into what can best be described as the area where geometry meets biology; with particular reference to the patterns and variations that nature produces on what is essentially a mathematical theme of possible forms.
Once I began to look around for other people working in this general area I was delighted to find so many really good artists concerned with the similar issues of form and pattern.
My selection ranges from established artists with international reputations like Susan Derges who I hope will be able to show her revelatory video work entitled 'Hermetica'; to unknown artists like Caroline Harkink who will be showing her astonishing and beautiful minute wire constructions. Also included in my selection are a number of artists inspired by the complex geometric pattern found in Islamic art and architecture.
When it came to selecting from the open submission which involved looking at an enormous number of works in a huge variety of materials and idioms, my initial ideas of theming the show went rather by the board. I began by trying to choose work which loosely related to that of the invited artists but soon realised that I would have to widen my criteria in order not to miss some really exciting work and it was gratifying to realise how often several of the selectors wanted to choose the same pieces.
It has been a hugely enjoyable process which I would not have missed and as a result I have been introduced to the work of some really talented artists previously unknown to me.
Selector Profile: Anne Robinson
For those like me for whom no detail is too small, let me set the scene.
We six selectors met on a cold wet day last September. We were positioned behind two trestle tables in a grim basement below Carlton House Terrace and asked to decide what tickled our individual fancies.
But lo! into the gloomy setting God shone a light. The works, a staggering 2000 of them, were presented to us by half a dozen quite dazzling young men, all artists themselves. The two, incidentally, with the most shapely arms and torsos (displayed to excellent effect beneath their tight T-shirts) turned out to be sculptors. I hadn't before appreciated this is one form of artistic endeavour that makes going to the gym redundant. As the Welsh say: every day is another day at school.
Anyway, the bonus of male beauty apart, much of the art was a joy and quite often two or three of us would be trying to bag the same picture. Indeed, when my fellow panelist Mark Lawson noisily absented himself (Mark does most things noisily) for a couple of hours to interview Andrew Lloyd Webber, I helpfully chose a photograph of a fish on a woman's backside on his behalf.
Foolishly, in my view, he was having none of it when he returned. So sadly the lady and the trout do not appear in his list.
For my invited contributors I mostly picked young artists. And as I played judge and jury two things struck me. First, what a vast amount of unsung talent there is out there. And second, to this trader's daughter, how sweetly uncommercial the youngsters were. "Call it Netting Hill," I urged one of them with an untitled work, "it will walk out the door in seconds." At this point my husband Penrose, who has a very decent eye for a picture, could be heard harrumphing in the background.
But Penrose must have taught me something. At last year's Discerning Eye we arrived on the opening night at different times. When we met up and agreed to take each other to view our favourite work in the show, it was hardly a long hike. Unknowingly, we had chosen the same artist. Not, however, the same picture. We bought both.
Selector Profile: Alan Grieve CBE
To be asked to be a selector for this exhibition requires not only a discerning eye, but quite a strong nerve. One is asked to nominate and select some sixty works by artists one knows, or whom one admires from a distance, and then compete with the other five selectors to find more work from a very large submission. All the work chosen is revealed as your selection and personal weaknesses and prejudices will emerge. As other selectors have asked in the past: "What will it look like on the wall?".
My collecting was triggered almost 40 years ago when my wife and I bought a watercolour for a few pounds in a Sussex village. We now possess too many paintings and drawings by the same artist but we like them (or almost all of them). Our tastes have changed and matured and our collecting has taught us a lot. We have met artists whose work we have bought and sometimes (mistakenly?) not bought. I suppose one of my greatest mistakes was not to purchase a painting by the late Euan Uglow which was in the first Jerwood Painting Prize in 1994. I recently met up with the painting again in a retrospective exhibition of his work and doubled my regret.
I hope my selections have to an extent veered towards some young artists, some Jerwood winners will be there as well as painters from the recent Being Present exhibition at the Jerwood Space. There will be portrait painters but not necessarily portraits.
Many of my nominated artists have been generous to come in and their dealers have been open-handed and encouraging.
In the end it is a selling exhibition of "small sized" work but of large talent. The artists must benefit alongside the Discerning Eye charity to open up collecting to a wide audience. Only buy what you like but look hard & long, feel some passion and above all have fun doing it.
Selector Profile: Norbert Lynton
Aimez-vous Brahms? *
Do you like art? That worries me, but the way people dislike art worries me even more. It is not there just to be approved or rejected. Spending so much time with art, I have a wide range of responses available. Quick ones, like 'yes, yes, yes' or 'please take that away before I lose all faith'. But also many slower ones, like 'hang on! there's something going on there'. In effect, I too like liking art and it hurts me to have to admit that some piece or another has nothing likeable about it. When something strikes me as really bad I wonder who is failing whom, its perpetrator or I for giving up on it. But 'liking' is never enough.
Art presents an enormous range in itself, from the sublime work that literally takes your breath away, to trash. I reckon that we should give it our attention down to about seventh-rate. Below that it is bad for us, the way bad food is bad for us. For art to thrive, it needs a rich, deep loam. No culture, no institution can possibly produce only great artists, nor would we know them to be great but for a wider context. A wider context for them and for ourselves: a broad view of the history of art, and awareness of the art of the present.
That awareness must, alas, include the realization that a lot of busily promoted art is really bad, and its promotion pollutes the loam & our stomach for art.
When people tell me that they like art, or like this or that piece of art, I wonder what it is they are liking. I suspect it is often the subject: a particular piece of scenery, a pleasing animal or person, the anatomy and pose of a painted or sculpted figure. Possibly the manner: the delicacy of the way something is depicted, or (more often) the vehemence, the passion. I remember Beverley Nicholl's account, in some magazine long ago, of how Van Gogh produced a Sunflowers painting, crudely reproduced on the same page. According to this, the painter, driven by creative frenzy, rushed out into the garden, seized these flowers and (figuratively, no doubt) 'flung them across his canvas' - or words to that effect. Anyone who looks at Van Gogh's Sunflowers paintings can see with what care each brushstroke was worked, the deliberation with which the colours and tones are weighed against each other, and the flowers and vase against the tabletop and background. The most passionate artist is usually the one who works with the greatest care. There is a wide-spread assumption that impetuosity signals authenticity. Urgency can be a pretence. Deliberation too can be a pose but it is a less attractive one since it involves thought, time and control on the artist's part and attention on ours.
Writers write for all sorts of purposes and occasions. We read a lot of what they set down, news good and bad, instructions, gossip, reports of many kinds from sport and fashion to the arts, biographies, poems, fiction. They can all be done well or badly, or in between, but it is particularly in the area of fiction that we demand pleasure. Pleasure can come from sweet romantic stuff, but there are pleasures of other kinds, pleasures that surprise us and enlarge us and connect us to the world rather than shelter us from it. So we go out to meet Anna Karenina, say, or To the Lighthouse, and find ourselves carrying them with us always, like deep friendships. I like Brahms, whom I discovered in my teens. I relish the warmth of much of his sound, the structures sustaining it, and those moments of bliss when the clouds part and he surrounds us with his light. And I know there are even more remarkable composers. Number eight of my Desert Island Discs would be of music by a modern composer whose work I still do not know well enough: music to discover, to engage with, to know intimately.
Art is not there merely to reassure us or go with the curtains. It should move us, in the sense of moving us along. Liking it too easily or quickly (I remind myself) is not good: it might well be full of cholesterol. Enjoying disliking it - I see people going into exhibitions, almost always of modern art, with 'what's this rubbish?' running across their foreheads like an LED message - is cultural anorexia.
* The title of one of the early novels of Francoise Sagan, who died recently. It was not about liking Brahms.
Selector Profile: Mark Lawson
Art is notoriously the area of culture in which we are most sensitive about declaring our preferences: people who are willing to call Citizen Kane boring or Shakespeare unwatchable will mutter a few diplomatic phrases about Van Gogh or Raphael, for fear of being thought philistine.
There are two likely reasons for this caginess about opinion of pictures: an image is small and quick enough to force a reaction without any of the evasions available in other disciplines - only halfway through, haven't got round to seeing it - taste in paintings is seen as more deeply revealing of our personality than, say, the books on our shelves.
My own taste in art was formed, in turn, by academic failure, religion, literature and television. The lowest mark I ever got at school - a flash of unfamiliar red ink - was for a portrait painted in third year art. Brother Martin even held my picture up to warn the rest of the worst possible heresies of composition: "You may note, gentlemen, that the head is square. You may also note that, in the general run of things, heads are round." My tear-swallowing response was that Picasso painted like that.
"Possibly, Lawson, but Picasso does it because he's a great artist; you do it because you are a bad one."
Subsequently, I have met dozens of (usually literary-leaning) people who were discouraged in a similar way and it regrettably seems that art is a subject in which teachers rapidly establish the few who can do, presumably reflecting a prejudice that artistic talent (unlike spelling or algebra) is brought rather than taught.
Many years later, finding an old panoramic school photo, I noticed that there was something unusual about the shape of Brother Martin's head: it would have fitted more easily into a beer-crate than a hat-box. And so, suspecting that my failed third-form portrait had triggered a particular sensitivity in him, I was able, as in so many areas of life, to glamorise my inadequacy as Freudian. Even so, there was a twenty-eight year gap until I attempted another picture: when, for National Drawing Week, Quentin Blake was persuaded to teach me for Radio 4's Front Row. Though one of the set exercises - a frightened rabbit - came out more as an apathetic rabbit, I felt, as they like to say in football commentaries, that I had "faced my demons."
Yet, as this makes clear, I come to art as a non-practitioner in an extreme sense. Nor was I, as a child, routinely toured around art galleries; my parents' preferred cultural outings were theatres, museums and old churches. The latter was significant because, brought up as a Catholic, my earliest experience of art was sacred paintings. The Anglicans had nicked England's best churches but the Catholics still had, on the continent, the finest pictures. So I may not know much about art but I know what Popes liked: Titian and Raphael exhibitions are another occasion for facing my demons. The literary gods of my adolescence also brought me to art. I discovered Magritte (still a favourite artist) through Tom Stoppard's 1971 play After Magritte (which gives a logical explanation for a ridiculous tableau) and a reproduction of L'Empire des Lumieres on the cover of a collection of Harold Pinter's plays. I was introduced to the pictures of Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns and Grant Wood through dust-jacket reproductions or references by characters in novels by John Updike, Philip Roth, Norman Mailer and John Cheever.
Otherwise, and it seems important to say this at a time when the future and funding of serious television are much under discussion, I was taught about art by the rectangular academy in the corner of the living room: Warhol, Hodgkin and Freud, among many others, hung in my house in flickering colour long before I saw them stilled in art galleries.
And a Freudian or Jesuit would conclude that my enthusiasm for modern art comes from belonging (born 1962) to a generation of television viewers for whom the landmark TV art series was not Kenneth Clark's Civilisation but Robert Hughes's The Shock of the New. Hughes has gradually recanted and now favours the shock of the old in Goya and other masters, but I can see the continuation of his enthusiasms in the work of younger British artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Rachel Whiteread, the Chapman Brothers and Michael Landy.
Hirst's shark, Emin's bed, Landy's shredding of all his possessions and the Chapman's Hell are innovative, intricate, intelligent, narrative art and the glee in some sections of the media at the loss of many of their generation's achievements in the recent Momart warehouse fire was a terrible philistinism even by the standards of British popular journalism.
We tend, as I said earlier, to be sensitive and defensive about our taste in art. During the selection process for this exhibition - when the judges sat at a long table for two days as the public entries were walked past - we were mainly silent for the first hour, daring someone else to risk the first enthusiasm.
The natural competitiveness of media professionals may also have become an issue: Anne Robinson insists that she could force me to claim a painting simply by leaning forward slightly as it was brought into the room, which is odd, as I believed I was playing exactly the same game with her.
But taste, in the end, must be declared. This, then, is the selection of someone who came to art in a haphazard way, his taste formed by the Pope, the BBC, the American novel and a spell in the mid-1980s sub-editing the essays of Andrew Graham-Dixon and Marina Warner at the Independent; and who believes, probably also influenced by twenty years in journalism, that photographs, cartoons and illustrations belong in art galleries. My only regret is not being able to include a square head.