Anthony Green RA
Stuart Pearson Wright
Mollie Dent Brocklehurst
Baroness Helena Kennedy
It's that Discerning Eye time of year again. As I write this we are already looking forward to the open selection process next week and the 2006 exhibition coming together.
This year has heralded a further three year commitment from ING which enables the Discerning Eye to work with confidence towards further initiatives that spread the understanding and enjoyment of art to a wider audience. ING, we cannot thank you enough.
As many of you are aware, throughout the year Discerning Eye runs a number of additional projects. One of the established activities is the giving of a bursary, worth £1000, to support an artist in developing his/her artwork. The entries are judged by the Discerning Eye Educational Advisory Board and four short listed artists are invited to exhibit works at the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2006.
For the second year running we are very pleased to be offering the award as a 'drawing' bursary; drawing, as described by Educational Advisory Board member Tom Coates, being "at the basis of everything; a starting point for all".
As we go to print, we are approaching the entrance deadline for this year's bursary, but looking at the standard of the entries that we have received so far, I am sure that the works submitted by the short listed artists will be a wonderful addition to our annual exhibition. Congratulations to those artists and we look forward to hearing the announcement of the winner at the Artists Private View on 16 November.
This year I would like to thank Tony Humphreys, our Chief Executive, for the work he has done over the last ten years guiding the charity into safe harbour and providing a secure base from which we can plan for a future of development and innovation.
Finally, a huge thank you to all our selectors and here's to a feast for eyes and mind.
Robert J Benton
Introduction: An endangered species
On this same page last year Anita Taylor made an impassioned case for the proper valuation of drawing as both a fundamental element within the creative visual process and as a marker and record of the history of our culture's relationship to the world in which we live. Given the rich evidence of this show and the fact that there are probably more good painters to the square mile in this country than anywhere else in Western Europe, it might seem just a little perverse therefore, to do the same thing for painting. But the truth is that, in a whole variety of ways, an underlying belief in the ability of painting to build an utterly personal and powerful language, one that deals, quite literally with life and death issues out of the fabric of an artist's immediate and ongoing experience, is currently under a great deal of pressure. Not just from the proselytisers of the so-called 'cutting edge', with their attractive-sounding but essentially simplistic equation that modern life and 'issues' can only be properly expressed by 'modern' media, but by the lack of intellectual and emotional conviction with which the public case is often being made for its essential qualities by those art world professionals - writers, critics, teachers, curators, gallerists and often even artists themselves - whose private values make them very well aware of just what it is that painting has always brought to our sense of place in the world, to what we call our 'culture'.
Strong words, perhaps, (and the fault lies with all of us) but the truth is that unless the arguments are convincingly made and the support given in tangible and meaningful ways, painting's future as a valued artistic medium will become increasingly marginalised - we cannot expect painters to continue working in such numbers and with the same degree of strength and vitality in a climate of such apparent indifference. This is not to minimise the realities of a situation where, for example, the numbers of national open competitions dedicated to painting, Discerning Eye notwithstanding, are in marked decline from lack of willing sponsorship - no more Hunting Prize for example - or when magazines like Modern Painters, have, long since, ceased to live up to their title in a desperate search for the cutting edge and lifestyle values. Or newspaper and media arts editors whose concerns now seem to lie only with reporting blockbuster shows in our national museums or the activities of half a dozen or so London galleries dedicated to showing the work of well-established and YBA (sic) millionaire artists (very few of them painters). The list of examples could go on and on.
All that really matters is to remember that the act of painting, in a way like no other 2-dimensional medium, acts as a tap-root into what the painter Christopher P. Wood has termed "an infinite stream of lyric truth stretching unceasingly in space and painters working silently in symbiotic relationship with it." As Stravinsky also observed of his Sacre du Printemps "I only wrote down what I heard. I am the vehicle through which the 'Sacre' passed." Our dreams, in truth, and we should tread on them very softly.
2006 is the eighth year of our relationship with The Discerning Eye and I am delighted to announce that due to the outstanding success of the partnership. ING Wholesale Banking in the UK has undertaken a three year sponsorship commitment with the annual Discerning Eye Exhibition - which will now be known as The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition.
The Discerning Eye, with its objectives of encouraging a wider understanding and appreciation of the visual arts and to create opportunities for artists, is a natural arts partner for ING. ING in London has one of the City's premier art collections, featuring work by artists such as L S Lowry. Sir Stanley Spencer and Samuel Palmer. We welcome numerous art interest groups to our offices throughout the year to see this collection. ING Group, headquartered in Amsterdam, has a collection of over 20,000 Dutch contemporary works of art. These credentials as a collector of fine art, both by established artists and from emerging contemporary names, are complemented by the active role ING plays in the art world as a major sponsor in The Netherlands of both the Rijksmuseum and the Maastricht Art Fair. In London, ING's imaginative art programme seeks to develop opportunities for up-and-coming artists and to bring their work to the attention of new audiences.
In partnership with The Discerning Eye and Arts & Business, we have run several projects to encourage our staff's interest in the visual arts. For example UK staff have curated an exhibition of 100 pictures by artists of their choice and last summer 35 members of staff were taught to draw by artists from The Prince's Drawing School. ING also feels strongly that its own collection and art programme should he used in imaginative ways to benefit the local community. In 2006 we have been working in partnership with the Baring Foundation, with students from a sixth form college in Hackney - their pictures, inspired by the River Thames, will hang in our offices next month.
The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition is a perfect extension to these activities. The Exhibition offers artists on the road to being well known the opportunity to exhibit alongside internationally recognised names and the opportunity to sell in an Exhibition freely accessible to the general public. For the audience the Exhibition provides a unique opportunity to view, and perhaps buy, work in a wonderful range of styles from a wide range of artists, work that is domestic in scale and reasonably priced.
ING thanks the Selectors, the Artists, the Discerning Eye and the Parker Harris Partnership for all their efforts and it just remains to wish The ING Discerning Eye 2006 Exhibition every success.
John Howland Jackson
CEO, ING UK & Ireland
ING Wholesale Banking is one of the six business divisions of ING Group responsible for providing a range of services to ING's corporate and institutional client base. In the UK, ING Group also provides direct savings banking through ING Direct, car and general leasing, and real estate development. investment management and financing. In this year's Fortune Global 500 ING ranks in the top 15 of the world's largest companies and is the largest financial institution on the list. The Group has offices in more than 50 countries and 114,000 staff.
Selector Profile: Anthony Green RA
I would like to own every object, embroidery, print, picture and drawing I have chosen for the Discerning Eye 2006 exhibition..... I love and admire things I cannot 'do'. Bella Easton's Chine Colle prints are a mystery. How are the component parts layered? The process seems delicate and infernal.
Oil paint and hardboard - even multiple density fibreboard I understand. But Neil Jeffries and Hilary Oliver draw and fashion with metal, creating bottoms, buildings, pubic hair, 'Y' fronts and fortifications. With aluminium and steel they triumph!
Odd shaped images? I have done my share and so has Jeffrey Camp - he is represented in the exhibition by six many sided images, narratives with the painterly touch of Thomas Gainsborough or Pierre Bonnard. Late Camp in the 21st century means we all have a tomorrow! Today, Jiro Osuga does irregular narratives complete with hinges - wonderful! Jeffery Johnson is a poet who paints - very slowly. The mystery is in the infinite detail.
The world that Tim Hyman conjures for us is urgent, urban and gently humorous. He gives the impression of long planning and quick drawing.
With his example in mind, should I paint 'looser'? Charles Williams paints funny pictures seriously. He copes with the human condition with wit and tenderness - every home needs one.
Gavin Fry embroiders - he'll have you in stitches. Oh, that I could do caravans with long stitches - his beadwork is exemplary. Small really is beautiful when he's on the job. I have known and loved Susan Bower's painting for many years, usually hung too high in prestigious mixed shows. In them she holds up a sympathetic mirror to life's experiences. Her solutions reassure me that art can be as comfortable as a bench in the park - not an angst in sight.... Eileen Cooper uses her art to make her privacies public - the best art always does just that - I am sure than many of us would love to live in her pictures.
Alas, too often professionals just 'do art'. Exactly fifty years ago I arrived at The Slade - they taught drawing there, rather well. I bought a copy of the 'Story of Art' by Ernst Gombrich. The first line of the introduction states simply "There really is no such thing as Art. There are only Artists."
Selector Profile: Stuart Pearson Wright
Having been a judge of previous open exhibitions I am cautious of the problems of nepotism, so it was my intention from the outset to only invite artists I had never met. Unfortunately few of the ten or so artists I initially put forward responded positively and I ended up having to invite artists that I know. This may have been a good thing in the end. It would seem rather a pity to penalise someone for knowing me by precluding their entry when I have a strong feeling about their work: which I have, of all the artists that I have selected.
The open submission is a different kind of challenge, largely because, without troubling to spare anyone's feelings, a considerable proportion of contemporary painting is so bloody awful and so rarely interesting. It is largely derivative, dishonest, intellectually lazy and either half-arsed or over-earnest. On the whole I feel that comfortable and polite painting deserves its peripheral position in the contemporary art market. So I came to the judging process from rather a cynical perspective but hoping to find artists whose work was in some way playful, self-knowing or subversive. At the very least it had to be thoughtful.
I am rather tired of works of art that, employing familiarity and comfort, lull one into a sense that everything is ok in the world when clearly that is not the case. I don't want art to reassure me but to wake me up, like a bolt of lighting up the arse: to a realisation of the intellectual complacency of my life. I want to be taught to see from a new perspective.
On the whole I felt rather indifferent towards most of the works submitted which were inoffensive in rather a bland way as long as one didn't have to live with them. In a number of pieces however, I found evidence of a subtle wit and I snapped up these works hastily. A few, I have to confess, seduced me by their draughtsmanship alone and one or two were so bad that they were wonderful. I had to have those too.
Selector Profile: Mollie Dent Brocklehurst
It was a particular challenge for me to be asked to contribute to the Discerning Eye, as I am currently involved in curating an exhibition dealing with commissioning art works on a very large scale. Looking at a 30 foot long dumptruck made from iron carvings from Gothic Cathedrals, it was difficult to think of artwork less than 20 inches. Most of the work that I do, certainly from the project at Sudeley Castle but also from the Gagosian Gallery, seems to be upon a much larger scale. However, I remember a photography teacher telling me that if an image doesn't work on a contact sheet, that it is not going to be improved by blowing it up. This certainly applies.
I think that the art scene in the East End of London just gets better and better. I have a group of galleries which I visit in my non-existent spare time. These include David Risley, Dicksmith, Museum 52 and Laura Bartlett. Given the confines of the exhibition I wanted to find a selection of work that really used the space in different ways. With the help of these galleries (and of course their artists) I pieced together a group of works quite disparate from each other.
From drawings to taxidermy, I found works that really show the scope and variety of ideas that can he conveyed in this tiny space.
Selector Profile: Baroness Helena Kennedy
There was no art in my home when I was growing up. Apart from a picture of the Sacred Heart, a statue of the Virgin Mary and other devotional artefacts, I cannot remember anything else on the walls apart from a mounted clock and the odd mirror.
However, my interest in drawing began when I was young because my father could draw rather well and when we played together he would show me how, producing some of the blank paper and charcoal he would bring from work. He was a dispatch hand with Scottish newspapers and the bin ends of the Daily Record paper rolls provided great practice material.
At school I was considered rather good at art and as a result formed special and hugely inspirational relationships with art teachers, who nurtured my interest with books and the occasional visit to the Glasgow Art Gallery. And so it began, a passionate love affair with drawings, paintings and sculpture, which took me on meandering journeys with boyfriends through Europe and beyond just to see the Paul Klees or Egon Schieles or the work of Malevich or Rothko.
I have never been interested in valuable jewellery or very expensive clothes but my secret indulgence involves trips to Angela Flowers Galleries, the Cadogan Contemporary or the Beaux Arts in London or Cyril Gerber's and the Compass Galleries in Glasgow. People always assume that buying paintings is the hobby of the rich but many of the paintings or sculptures I have purchased have been relatively inexpensive but have given me pleasure beyond measure. I also make a practice of buying a piece of art as a wedding present for my nieces on the premise that contented lives need more than linen and glassware.
When my husband's mother died we used the money she left to set up an art project in his department at Bart's and the London Hospitals. Iain's work as a surgeon involves reconstruction of faces after trauma, or cancer or because of childhood deformity and he had the inspirational idea of bringing a young painter into the process. The project has created the hugely successful "Saving Faces" exhibition which now tours internationally and it proved not only that art should be present in every area of our lives but that it has extraordinary restorative powers.
Judging on the Discerning Eye was a heaven-sent opportunity to play the role of curator, choosing paintings that caught my imagination, artists whose work I had long admired or recently come to know. The paintings which had been entered in the open submission were overwhelming in their diversity of subject and style. It was a feast but also a challenge. A discerning eye? Who is to say? The eye is just the portal to the brain and the heart. The test for me is about wanting to look again and again.
Selector Profile: William Feaver
Small works of art are liable to provoke dismissal on the grounds that 'small' is another word for petty or trivial. Under 20 inches (framed) is the Discerning Eye stipulation, which is six times the size required by, say Thomas Bewick for his Tynedale vignettes or William Blake for his wood engravings for Thornton's "Virgil". So small's no problem, not unless you want to overwhelm the viewer from a distance. Small's acoustic and unamplified. That said, certain sorts of painting and drawing (and indeed larger-than-netsuke sculpture) fail to operate properly on a small or miniature scale. (A recent Belgian-led fashion for folio-size studies of dim little memories expressed in flashy beige has involved trying to make a virtue of modest proportions but, generally speaking, this type of reticence has proved disproportionately trite.) Happily, of course, Corot or Constable sketches, van Eyck heads, Leonardo deluges, Picasso fingernail skits are engrossing not least because their immediacy is a sort of intimacy.
Choosing works for this Discerning Eye selection has been a pleasure partly because the size restriction is an aid to concentration.
I trust that what's been chosen is lively enough & vivid enough to prove – as all good art does - completely vital.
Selector Profile: Laura Gascoigne
The Discerning Eye is a very special exhibition. Not only is it unusual in showcasing small works, it's also unique among juried exhibitions in forcing its selectors to stand up for their personal taste. There's none of the usual horse-trading or responsibility shirking – you each get a wall and a spotlight, and have to live with the consequences.
This is a very good thing, and there should be more of it. Too many public gallery shows of contemporary art are the outcome of selection by committee, and as Rodin rightly observed: "As soon as a few people, however intelligent or expert they may be, come together to judge works submitted to them, they will never agree on anything other than a totally neutral work".
Art has always been a matter of personal taste; when it's handed down by authority from on high with proclamations of why we're supposed to like it, we lose the habit of exercising our judgment. A show like The Discerning Eye helps to keep us in trim.
In art, big isn't necessarily clever, nor is difficult necessarily good. I make no apology for the fact that in making my selection I wasn't looking for 'conceptual rigour' or any of the other rather punishing criteria one is meant to apply to post-modern art.
I chose works because I liked them – and I liked them because they seemed to say something to me about the artist's experience of the world we live in. I hope they also say something to you, though I realise that what they say to you may he different. But if they speak at all they'll be giving a voice to the sorts of artists who – in our world of big noisy public art – are too seldom heard.