Nicole Fahri CBE
A considerable number of artists submitted works in the hope of being selected for the 2015 ING Discerning Eye exhibition. More than 2,000 works were considered by the selectors. The work this year was of a very high quality and competition, as ever, was tight. A total of 237 works submitted by 130 artists made it through the open submission to the walls of the Mall Galleries this year, representing more than half of the artists on show. The exhibition, as in years past, is an eclectic and colourful mix of work in varied media, sculpture and photography. I am certain there is something to appeal to every visitor's taste.
The work of one, or more, of the artists chosen to hang this year will be added to the Discerning Eye's Collection. This initiative was launched back in 2008 with the aim of building a body of work that could be loaned to galleries and institutions without the funds to stage their own shows, and to promote the work of the charity and the talent of its artists.
An annual prize in honour of founding father Michael Reynolds was established, the work being chosen by his friend and long-term DE supporter, critic Brian Sewell, who died this year. This formed the bedrock of the collection which has grown, by acquisition and by donation, to some forty works.
The first display of the DE collection was at the beginning of the year in the Temple Church, the original 'Round Church' in the City of London built by the Knights Templar in the late twelfth century. The exhibition attracted art lovers on a daily basis over, a perfect lunch-time stop for those who work in London's legal district and the City. The exhibition, which ran for three months, was made possible by the vision of Ian Mayes, QC, Treasurer of Temple Church, to create an exhibition space on the church's unique circular first floor. Temple Church Verger, John Shearer, and Head of Works Ian Garwood, worked to ensure the Discerning Eye's first Collection exhibition was a success.
My thanks also go to the selectors who gave their time and enthusiasm choosing the 2015 exhibits, to our hosts, the Mall Galleries, our exhibition organisers Parker Harris, and, of course, our sponsors ING Commercial Banking, without whom this show would not be possible.
In September the Discerning Eye lost an old friend when the art critic Brian Sewell passed away aged 84. I met Brian around twenty years ago, introduced to him by Discerning Eye founder Michael Reynolds. Not long after meeting Brian, Michael contrived that I should produce a video on portraiture with Brian which upheld the traditions of portrait painting such as Michael practised! It was to feature three painters all of whom would be interviewed by Brian as he was painted by each artist. Needless to say Michael was one of the three painters featured in the video which was all shot at Brian's house and called 'A Brush With Sewell on Portraiture'. I got to know Brian over this period and not long after that I became his agent.
Representing him gave some memorable moments. For example the day he called me and said, 'I've had a phone call from somebody who wants to imitate my voice on a TV commercial. Would that be OK?' Of course Brian's voice was legendary so he was somewhat taken aback with my immediate response of 'no it would not be OK' and asked for the phone number of the agency making the request. 'If they want a voice sounding like Brian Sewell then they can have Brian Sewell' I said. His response was a simple 'Oh, I never thought of that'. In the process of convincing the agency that the real voice would be much better but that they would have to pay for it, I discovered that it was to sell ice cream. Not exactly Brian! However, much to my surprise, this appealed to his sense of humour and fun and he agreed to do it in principle before I had chance to tell him how lucrative a deal I had negotiated for him. After a yelp of amazement and delight down the phone, he said 'Oh good! That will more than cover the cost of cleaning of the big Victorian windows to my study which have needed doing for ages'.
I am writing this piece in Istanbul and having visited numerous mosques over the past few days, I am also reminded of Brian's TV presenting days on Channel 4's Travelogue programme and in particular an episode in which he visited a mosque in Pakistan. He insisted that the only way to get a proper view of the dome ceiling was to lay on his back on the floor underneath it. This hadn't been planned but he simply refused to view it any other way!
These and many other memories came flooding back when I was informed of his death. He was a very honest man as reflected in his autobiography. He once told me there was no point writing an autobiography unless it was honest.
He was a loyal supporter of the Discerning Eye from the start. A couple of years ago, he called me after a visit to the Summer Exhibition to encourage me to do something about the way the Royal Academy was copying the DE in its selection and hanging of small works which had, in his view been done 'terribly' and 'might reflect badly on Discerning Eye'.
Having already been a selector twice, in 2011 he asked me if he could select for a third time so that he could get it right this time. We knew of his ill health and were delighted to oblige. In recent years, he also contributed personally to the funding of the Founder's Prize and until he was too unwell to come to the Mall Galleries in person, also selected that prize for inclusion into the DE Collection.
Many people thought that they could pigeon hole Brian and his views on life, but those who knew him know that the only pigeon hole he could possibly fit into was the one labelled Unique! He had a wicked sense of humour and loved to tease people who often believed some of his 'stories'. I always knew when he was spinning a yarn because he couldn't stop his lip corners twitching as he tried to suppress his naughtiness. He will be sorely missed by those who knew and respected him.
This year also saw the passing of another recent DE selector Albert Irvin. We are fortunate to have acquired one of his prints for the DE collection which seems a fitting way for us to remember him in future years.
This is unbelievably already our twenty fourth exhibition and these recent deaths remind us that many people have helped bring the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition to where it is today. Please celebrate those contributions with us by enjoying the evening and supporting the artists by buying what you like and can afford. It will give you years of pleasure.
The 2015 exhibition will comprise 451 works by 195 artists.
67% (130) of the artists and 52% (237) of the works will be from the open submission.
Painting and drawing make up about 64% of the works, mixed media and sculpture about 29%,
printmaking a further 4%, and photography about 3% this year.
ING Gerald Walker introduces the 2015 exhibition
ING is delighted to sponsor the Discerning Eye Exhibition once again in 2015. This is the 17th year of ING's collaboration with the charity.
The longevity of this partnership is by now well-known. From our perspective, it has been very rewarding to see how the Discerning Eye has developed and flourished over the years.
A very pleasing, recent development has been the additional encouragement given to artists to submit work in such a wide range of media. This has contributed to the wonderful diversity of work that is showcased by this exhibition. From photography to sculpture, traditional to mixed media, we are both excited and intrigued to see what this year's exhibition will bring.
Last year's ING purchase prize was won by Dee Stanford for the sculpture, Rush Hour. The piece is now on display at our London offices for the enjoyment of staff and clients alike.
Art is very much at the forefront of our minds this year at ING for a variety of reasons. As our UK business prepares to move to new offices next year, we are already engaging in projects to prepare one of the foremost corporate collections in the City of London for safe transport.
Works include 18th and 19th century British watercolours, our Latin American Topographical collection and early Modern British oils. These are complemented by our growing selection of ING Discerning Eye prize winners.
While the move provides an opportunity to adapt and enhance the quality of our collection, it is also a time to reflect on our role as custodian of this aspect of British and wider European cultural heritage. In this sense our support of the arts extends to both the new and the more established.
The importance of this role is recognised across the ING organisation and forms a significant part of our Corporate Social Responsibility agenda. Around 15,000 works of art elevate and enhance some 550 ING offices worldwide. We continue to introduce new audiences to our collection through loans to public galleries and tours for art interest groups. By doing so, we hope to complement the Discerning Eye charity in its efforts to introduce New Artists to New Audiences.
ING thanks the selectors, the artists, The Discerning Eye and the Parker Harris Partnership for all their efforts in preparing for the exhibition.
Please join me in wishing the ING Discerning Eye 2015 Exhibition every success.
CEO, ING Wholesale Banking UK, Ireland and Middle East
ING is a global financial institution of Dutch origin, currently offering banking, investment, life insurance (NN Group) and retirement services. We draw on our experience and expertise, our commitment to excellent service and our global scale to meet the needs of a broad customer base. ING Wholesale Banking is responsible for providing a range of services to ING's corporate and institutional clients.
Selector Profile: Emma Bridgewater
When I was asked to be a selector for Discerning Eye, I was frankly nervous, as I had never done such a thing before, and although I buy some contemporary work, and while it's true that our house and studio are hung from floor to ceiling in many rooms because we have so many pictures, I have never considered myself as the owner of a discerning eye. I simply buy pictures that move me. Moreover an awful lot of the pictures I hang on my walls are there for all kinds of reasons - historical, personal and sentimental. In this way my walls somewhat resemble my kitchen dresser; both are something of a collage of my life and loves.
So duly, but rather nervously, I asked a collection of artists if they would like to participate, on the basis that they are all people whose work I like, and sometimes buy; I was perked up by their reactions as in each case they were very keen, and so I went to the Open Selection day feeling that whilst I had no idea what the day held, maybe it was all tending the right way. Well, what a surprise: I was the last to arrive, and a well oiled process was already under way, whereby an admirably well drilled team put over 2,000 pieces of work in front of the panel and we spoke up to claim the work we might want to include in our selection. Of course at the outset I was sure, for all of 2 minutes, that I had missed all the best things already. Not so. The wide sweep across the country, providing a fascinating snapshot of what British artists are painting right now, yielded tremendous energy and much quality. As a panel we all seemed to feel our way to a mutually sympathetic insight pretty quickly, and whilst it often happened that two or more people went for the same piece we almost always managed a swift deal on the spot, leaving only a small number of pieces for the horse trading opportunity at the end of the day.
As I write I have still to hang my selection, and I am very much looking forward to resolving a diverse collection into a coherent whole. I have a residual concern that I chose quite a few landscapes where the artist had not 'been lucky with the weather' - would these, quite my favourite pieces, prove terribly gloomy en masse? I will tackle this when the day comes, and I will I know be thinking of arranging the china in my kitchen as I strive to harmonise this group of thoroughly heterogeneous pictures.
Selector Profile: Nicole Farhi CBE
I was both surprised and delighted to be asked to be one of the selectors for The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition. For me it was a wonderful change. After so many years spent supervising young Fashion Designers, I was at last able to support young emerging artists. I was going to be able to use not my experience as a designer but instead my instinct and gut feeling about art. For the last two years I have been a professional sculptor.
I was also asked to invite contributions from some of my artist friends. Nothing could have made me happier. I was at last able to thank all the people who helped me through the years by their friendship and advice. I started immediately drawing up my guest list. At the head of it: The sculptor Jean Gibson, my beloved teacher who died in 1991. Jean instilled in me the passion for sculpture, the endless pleasure of creating and its frustration too. Her work will be at the centre of my wall and around her, her friends work. They became my friends over the years and they all answered happily to my invitation. I decided to show the bust I made of Eduardo Paolozzi who, next to Jean, nurtured my passion and was my friend and mentor.
When the selection day arrived, I was introduced to my fellow panelists, a very sympathetic and impressive group. We were told we will have to look at about 2200 artworks a very daunting number indeed, during the course of the day. I liked the fact that the size of the works presented will be more or less constant, no larger and higher than 50cm x 50cm. It will give a sense of ensemble to the final selection. I had no preconceived idea how to make a judgement so fast but it became rapidly clear to me that I was emotionally responding to a certain quality in the paint, the marks, colours and shapes. These tended to attract me more than the subject matter. My choices were instinctive and very fast. I found myself raising my hand or jumping from my chair to get nearer a painting. We chose the work blind, not knowing if the artist was a man or a woman. When I discerned an obviously talented or distinctive style, a work with authenticity, then I would choose at least 2 paintings from the 4 or 5 paintings shown by that artist and very often the rest of the paintings would be selected as well by someone else from the panel.
There was a very collegiate attitude amongst us, and we were encouraged later in the day to swap works with each other to enhance the overall look of each selection and therefore enhance the final show. When, at the end, I reviewed my choice of paintings and outstanding ceramics, I realised at once that I still liked everything I had chosen. If perhaps I had let a particular painting go, then I was relieved to discover someone else had chosen it. It will be in the Exhibition one way or another, and that was the most important thing, not which of us chose it. The Discerning Eye exists to give the opportunity to young talented artists, to show their work alongside established contemporary artists, and for the public to come and to appreciate both. I thank them for having given me the pleasure to be part of the process leading to the Exhibition.
Selector Profile: Larry Lamb
As a newly appointed Selector, I found myself in the basement of a beautiful old building in Carlton House Terrace, casting my none too experienced but hopefully Discerning Eye more than 2,000 works of art submitted by artists from all over the country... It suddenly struck me that my first full time job on leaving school was a Lorry Driver's Mate - collecting waste paper from offices all around London and how one of our regular pickups had been a basement in Carlton House Terrace... how life can take one on an incredible journey!
Selector Profile: Stephen Snoddy
My chosen artists have come from wherever I have worked across the UK - Belfast, Bristol, Manchester, Southampton, Milton Keynes, Gateshead and Walsall as I have always made connections between the galleries that I have worked at and artists from that city/region. It is important for me to have a dialogue between a programme and what is happening on the doorstep and to support the visual arts ecology and to build a stronger regional structure for artists to build careers nationally and internationally. From the open submission it was gut instinct and those who I felt were clear about their work.
Selector Profile: Stephen Doherty
I was at first quite hesitant when asked to be a selector for Discerning Eye. I was aware of the responsibility the role carried and I wanted to be sure that I could do justice to all of the artists who submitted their work. I felt quite apprehensive on selection day and wasn't really sure what to expect, but after a slow and tentative start, I began to settle and became more confident in my choices and bidding for works that I really wanted as part of my group.
Judging more than 2,000 art works was a challenge, especially when each piece demands very close attention but I did find the selection process very enjoyable and rewarding. I was really impressed with the strength and broad range of the submissions, and the real sense of passion and pride in the work produced.
I am very lucky to work at Somerset House. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in London with one of the largest outdoor public spaces - The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court - and its unique position on a bend of the Thames gives unparalleled views of London's riverscape, stretching both East and West. I love the countryside, the land and sea, and being at Somerset House I am surrounded by nature despite being in the very centre of London. It is a place where you can come and be refreshed not just by our public programme of exhibitions and events, but also by the ever changing sky and flowing waters of the Thames.
Unsurprisingly, because of my great interest in the natural environment and concern for its conservation and preservation, I found myself drawn to images of landscape. Therefore, in making my selections, I decided to keep the theme deliberately tight and curate a display of works that spoke to me of a love of the land and the colours and textures that nourish the soul and make the heart sing.
In grouping the artworks in this way, I hope that my selected artists feel that I have done their work justice, and that visitors to the show will understand our great appreciation of the countryside.
Being involved with Discerning Eye has been a pleasure, a privilege and a very enriching experience.
Selector Profile: Steve Pill
My mum passed away at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in the early hours of Saturday morning on the 5th of September 2009. An hour or two before she passed, I held her hand and was moved to take a picture of it. Grainy, dark and a little out of focus; it remains my most treasured photograph.
When I left the hospital, I hopped on a train in the opposite direction to home and spent several hours alone in Modern Art Oxford, wandering the galleries in something of a daze. It was an odd thing to do, perhaps, but at the time it was the only thing that felt right. In the months and years that followed, art and photography gave my life structure and release more than ever before. My role as editor of Artists & Illustrators has provided the chance to meet, interview and work alongside countless inspiring individuals and in my spare time I have gone in search of images that satisfied some deeper need.
While I never expect to find an artwork that could match the personal, emotional impact of that photograph, I have been increasingly drawn to images that deal with connections and detachment, or artists who I feel display a real truth and honesty in their practice. With that in mind, I was excited to accept ING's generous offer of curating a display as it gave me a rare chance to test myself and judge images on instinct, without recourse to context or personality.
I have also been humbled by the generosity of my fellow selectors throughout this process. Sifting through the 2,200 artworks in the open submission was a more co-operative, enjoyable and good-natured experience than any other judging panel I have sat upon. Mall Galleries will stage six individual displays, yet you could easily create a Venn diagram around many of the artworks that were coveted by all.
In addition to this, several of the selectors have used this opportunity to address and highlight some of the ugly biases that linger in the contemporary British art world, from gender to geography. My selection is, embarrassingly, far more selfish than that. This one is for Mum.