Chris Orr RA
Ian Mayes QC
Twenty five or so years ago a group of artists known as the Young British Artists - among them Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin - were creating shock waves in the art world. Their work was brash, irreverent and challenging.
Painter Michael Reynolds, a Rome Scholar and noted art historian, a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and a more traditional artist by far, thought much of the art of the time meretricious. He and a group of friends decided to champion 'domestic' art - works that were well executed, small in scale, accessible to all and, most importantly, could be bought and carried back from the gallery 'under arm' and hung in any home or office space'.
A charity was formed and in December 1990 The Discerning Eye held the first of its annual exhibitions to support and promote artists. Six individuals, each an expert in their area of the art world, were asked to select work submitted by artists in open submission. Only one limitation was set: works had to be no larger than twenty inches square.
The selectors were at the same time encouraged to invite artists they admired, many of whom were well known, to show, so giving the unknown artist the opportunity to hang alongside the known.
The responsibility then fell to both selector and visitor to apply a discerning eye in choosing or buying a work.
Michael Reynolds wrote at the time: 'The organisers had the hope that the unknown would mingle with the famous and be seen as no worse, that the public would ignore names and buy their choice, that at last there would be some representation of art to suit the domestic situation'.
Selectors for that first show were art collector and former Chairman of the Arts Council Lord Palumbo, art critic Brian Sewell, landscape painter and former President of the Royal Academy Sir Roger de Grey PPRA, gallery owner Odette Gilbert, artist and critic Giles Auty and artist and former President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters David Poole.
Unsurprisingly, there wasn't a pickled shark in sight.
Within a year or two of the launch of the Discerning Eye Michael Reynolds wrote that he thought the exhibition might be improved by including what he termed a 'lay selector'. As you will see from the list of past selectors elsewhere in this catalogue, the panels now invited to sit in judgement have been widened to include many household names: Big Brother presenter Davina McCall has found herself sitting alongside Royal Academy Chief Executive Charles Saumarez Smith, Sir Michael Parkinson next to Sir Peter Blake.
It could be said that the Mall Galleries, a short walk from Clarence House, is HRH The Prince of Wales' local art gallery. He has been a long term supporter of Discerning Eye, exhibiting his watercolours on three occasions, the first in 1991, opening the 1996 exhibition and serving as a selector the following year.
Some facts and figures from the last quarter century:
- Twenty five shows have been held since 1990. (No exhibition was held in 1993 or 1994)
- Around 50,000 works of art have passed through the selection process
- A total of 3,315 artists have exhibited
- Almost twelve thousand works (11,753 to be precise) have been hung
- Around £300,000 has been awarded as prizes to exhibiting artists
- More than £1,000,000 of art has been sold on behalf of artists
Michael Reynolds died in 2008 but is remembered by the Founder's Prize, first established by Brian Sewell, his friend and collaborator and strong DE advocate, who himself died last year. His work is held in the Discerning Eye Collection, of which a report by Chief Executive Tony Humphreys is carried elsewhere in this catalogue.
Tony has been for some twenty years the guiding force behind the charity and has championed many developments and initiatives. An untold number of artists owe him a debt of gratitude for his enthusiasm and backing.
Thanks must also go to this year's selectors who have wholeheartedly given their time and commitment to ensure that the 2016 Discerning Eye Exhibition is a success. Thanks, too, to the Mall Galleries, and Parker Harris, our exhibition organisers.
An undertaking such as the Discerning Eye annual exhibition is not possible without generous sponsorship and for the last eighteen of our twenty-five years that has come from ING Wholesale Banking.
As we celebrate our Silver Jubilee I offer the heartfelt thanks of the Directors of The Discerning Eye to ING for its staunch support.
Any big birthday deserves a celebration, and twenty five years of the Discerning Eye exhibition is no exception. In fact, against the financial climate of recent years, for an independent arts organisation to not only survive but to thrive is a remarkable achievement.
As part of our celebrations, the Discerning Eye Collection visited former education committee member Anita Taylor's new gallery in Trowbridge, back in May, and in October, we mounted a DE former winners' exhibition at the Triforium, Temple Church. The works on show in this exhibition have all been included in a special Silver Anniversary catalogue and works will be available to purchase on the DE website until the end of November. Each participating artist will receive a copy of the catalogue, which will also be given out to guests at our anniversary dinner to be held in the main gallery, during this year's exhibition, at The Mall Galleries, on Wednesday 23rd November.
Tickets for this dinner have already sold out, but anybody still interested in coming, might like to check for returns or cancellations with me during the various Private Views this week.
Once again, huge thanks are due to ING and, in particular, the communications team and ING's in-house catering department who have been enthusiastic and supportive from the first moment the idea of a dinner was mentioned. Chef and staff will 'up ladles' from the kitchen at ING's splendid new offices at 8-10 Moorgate to set up for service at The Mall for the evening. As I have said many times before, having a great sponsor is not just about the hard cash they make available but also about having shared objectives and a real interest in wanting to succeed. There can't be many companies with this level of employee engagement, so a big and special thanks to the staff of ING!
As the Chairman mentions in his piece, we have over the years initiated a number of new activities to benefit artists. None of this happens overnight, but we hope that artists appreciate that the DE charity exists to offer them more opportunities and benefits wherever possible. We appreciate it can be expensive to submit to open exhibitions, which is why we continue to subsidise collection of works from around Britain and also run a members' scheme to reduce the submission costs of submitting the maximum number of works. We are constantly trying to increase the number of prizes and are proud of the number of purchase prizes, cash prizes, bursaries and awards we have generated over the years.
Whilst being an exhibitor in the DE exhibition has helped many emerging artists over the years, we are just as satisfied when an established artist supports the exhibition by submitting his or her work through the open submission process, knowing that our truly independent approach offers no guarantee of acceptance.
We believe that this level of integrity, endorsed by the fact that six individual selectors make their own very personal choices, is valued by the artists who this year submitted works for consideration in record numbers. As you will see when you tour the galleries, this has resulted in there probably being a greater number of artists on the walls than in previous years. This was not intentional, it simply reflects the tastes of the selectors.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the artists who submitted works this year and wish those of you who were unsuccessful, better luck next year.
Finally, the selectors of course need to be thanked and applauded, not only for the time they give up but for the seriousness with which they approach their task. When Celia Imrie agreed to be a selector in the early part of the year, she had no idea she would be rehearsing for a major production of Shakespeare at the same time. Of course, we always know when approaching great actors and actresses like Celia that their availability is highly unpredictable. However, and notwithstanding how all-consuming a short rehearsal period can be, because Celia's rehearsals were in London she still found time to participate as a selector. I hope that the artists she has selected, along with all the others in the exhibition, enjoy their side of the experience. Let us hope they'll have fewer works but more cheques to take home at the end of the exhibition!
The 2016 exhibition will comprise over 700 works by over 400 artists.
70% of the artists and 60% of the works will be from the open submission.
Painting and drawing make up about 70% of the works, mixed media and sculpture about 13%,
printmaking a further 7%, and photography about 5% this year.
ING Gerald Walker introduces the 2016 exhibition
ING is delighted to sponsor the ING Discerning Eye once again in 2016. As we celebrate the 25th exhibition, it is a moment to reflect on the history of this important charity - one that we are proud to have had the ING name associated with for the last 18 years. At ING, culture has always been key to our clients and employees. Through access to our own art collection and sponsorships such as the ING Discerning Eye, we aim to make art and culture accessible to a broad audience. This is closely aligned to the Discerning Eye charity's own goals of encouraging a wider understanding and appreciation of the visual arts and of stimulating debate about the place and purpose of art in our society.
When we consider the activities of the ING Discerning Eye over the years, the theme of making art accessible to a broad audience comes through very strongly. The exhibition comprises both publicly-submitted works and works independently selected by six prominent figures from different areas of the art world: two artists, two collectors and two critics. This format provides an unusual opportunity for works by lesser-known artists to be hung alongside contributions from internationally recognised names. It provides the chance for viewers to discover new artists. And for the selectors, it is often a new experience as well - particularly for those we are more accustomed to seeing on the silver screen, or in boardrooms or Parliament.
In our ING UK art collection, the partnership with Discerning Eye has a very special place. Through the ING purchase prize, we have added 17 Discerning Eye works to the collection - one for every year of the relationship to date. Last year's Purchase Prize was The Tyne at Wallsend Study 1 by Andrew Gifford.
Over the summer of 2016, we relocated our ING UK art collection, including 18th and 19th century British watercolours, early Modern British oils and, of course, the Discerning Eye works, to our new building at 8-10 Moorgate. We had the opportunity to fit-out the new environment with the collection in mind. In several areas of the bank, the colour scheme is designed to emphasise and showcase our unique collection - and the end result is a stimulating and inspiring place for colleagues and clients to do business.
ING thanks the selectors, the artists, The Discerning Eye and Parker Harris for all their efforts in preparing for the exhibition and this additional celebrations in this landmark year.
Please join me in wishing the ING Discerning Eye 2016 Exhibition every success.
Head of UK, Ireland & Middle East, ING Wholesale Banking
ING is a global financial institution with a strong European base, offering banking services through its operating company ING Bank. The purpose of ING Bank is empowering people to stay a step ahead in life and in business. ING Bank's more than 52,000 employees offer retail and wholesale banking services to customers in over 40 countries. Sustainability forms an integral part of ING's corporate strategy, which is evidenced by our number one position among 395 banks ranked by Sustainalytics. ING Group shares are being included in the FTSE4Good index and in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (Europe and World), where ING is among the leaders in the Banks industry group.
Selector Profile: Dan Coombs
My section of the exhibition, which combines unseen works by selected artists, and works chosen from a mass of submitted material, will take the form of a polyvalent rhizome¹. That is to say a plateau of multiplicities laced together by invisible connections. The individual works and artists were selected because of their singularity. Collectively, they will form a polyphony, a collage of possibilities.
Rhizome - a philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their book 'A Thousand Plateaus' (1980). It is what Deleuze calls an 'image of thought' based on the botanical rhizome, which is multiple, planar, and propagates growth with 'no beginning or end'.
¹ Polyvalent - having many different functions, forms or facets.
Selector Profile: Sacha Craddock
Discerning Eye provides the opportunity to consider a broad range of painting and sculpture, albeit of a prescribed scale. Once immersed so much can and does emerge.
I of course enjoyed choosing the artists I admire to contribute, but I also always cherish the opportunity to select from an open send in. The fellow selectors and I spent an intense good natured and often competitive day together...
I wonder how it will turn out, while not pretending to actually curate the mass of work I have selected and asked for, I look forward to attempting to bring forward the quality in each.
Selector Profile: Michael Glover
The Helplessness of the Winners
They took themselves up and off,
later that day, you might say,
as a way of disbelieving
– or even denying –
that they had been chosen.
None of them had asked
to be there that morning
in that cold, dank basement
open to the novelty of
grey, new-fangled day.
One by one they had been brought in,
and then quite roughly handled –
One or two had even been obliged to
fall on their faces.
Had there been space –
or even a moment’s notice –
to plead for themselves?
All were mute.
All were helpless.
Each one had said: see me now,
and then perhaps never again...
Just a few survived:
the brazen, the plucky,
the outrageous, the never-say-dies,
the full-in-the face types.
Selector Profile: Celia Imrie
I am so excited to be given this chance to invite my favourite artists to join in this vast and spectacular competition.
Of all fields in The Arts surely getting started as an artist must be the hardest. So if this occasion helps display their talents to a wider audience I am very happy.
Bizarrely while rehearsing King Lear I am grateful to discover there is one of my lines I hope I will not forget:
'Who hast not in thy brows an eye discerning'.....
Thank you for giving me this treat.
Selector Profile: Ian Mayes QC
The ING sponsored exhibition at the Mall Galleries is the centrepiece of Discerning Eye's year but this charity does other good work. Without the hard work of the Discerning Eye team the Triforium of the twelfth Century Temple Church would not have been transformed from a store for old musical scores into an exciting visual arts space 'in the Round' and in the heart of Legal London. If John Penrose, Tony Humphreys and Emma and Penny from Parker Harris had not put on last year's inaugural show of the DE Collection the lawyers would still just be talking about it.
Being a selector meant that I could invite old friends, which was the easy part. Choosing off a conveyor belt only sixty works from the open submission of more than two thousand was a bruising process. Conducted in a well-mannered but highly competitive spirit - a bit like practice at the Bar - selectors needed to react fast and instinctively. Around three to five seconds was allowed to decide whether to include or reject a work. He who hesitated would see a prized work ending up on a fellow selector's wall.
The mix of old friends and new talent means that on my wall there is something for everybody and, possibly, (on closer inspection) something to offend everybody. Enjoy!
Selector Profile: Chris Orr RA
Why I chose what I have chosen: I like pictures that tell a story. As well as the stories of life around us, the source may be an anecdote, the overheard snatch of conversation (mobile phones are a gift), the poem or the novel. I also have a soft spot for things that in themselves are stories. The process and evolution of a picture are part of it's personality. A work might have gone through many phases of success and failure, testing and editing, clarification and mystery before it is settled, so storytelling in one form or another is the business of Art. Perhaps it all goes back to our ancient ancestors who sat around the fire repeating tales, scratching in the sand, singing songs to confirm and develop human experience.
In theory, the contemporary artist is freed from the more tedious aspects of representing the world, but it is surprising how many of us still want to describe and tell the story of the stuff that goes on around us, despite the invention of smart ways to process reality. The more the digital revolution reaches for perfection, the more people seem to want to wrestle with the beast of subjective phenomena. So open exhibitions like the Discerning Eye and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition have a prolific send in of passionate figurative work. Just as in China at any one moment, there will be millions performing a Mozart piano piece, so in Britain at any one moment there must be many thousands working away with paint and pencil, chisel and scalpel. On completion they desperately want other people to see the results.
So what is good and bad in Art, and how do the judges choose one picture as opposed to another? In the selection process the works come at you thick and fast brought in by a team of art handlers. You must make an instant decision. This has to be intuitive. Like going to a very large party you quickly work out who you want to talk to. There are second thoughts, for and against, but no time to do research or look for corroborating evidence. You have to trust your judgement built over years of looking. I remember the shock when I first went to Art School and was told that there was no progress in Art and that the definition of the bad in Art had changed many times. This is the last bastion of an unreasonable world where intuitive feeling trumps all the myriad orthodoxies.
The net result is a contradictory exhibition, but this contradiction is at the heart of creativity. No open submission exhibition makes sense. It is the very surprising unpredictability that makes it both significant and entertaining. Walking into a display like this often leads to a kind of 'snow blindness'. The result of a large number of small scale, but intense images can put you into a bit of a spin, but look carefully dear viewer, and you will surely find something of great significance, even life changing for you. That is why I have chosen what I have chosen.