Peter Brown PNEAC
Welcome to the 2021 ING Discerning Eye Exhibition which marks our 30th anniversary. We had an extensive range of works to select from submitted by artists across the UK. This year’s selectors; Adelaide Damoah, Anna Brady, Peter Brown, Roland Cowan, Russell Tovey and Tony Humphreys showed great enthusiasm and commitment in addressing the task of judging and selecting from so many pieces of art. We are very grateful to each of them and to all of the artists.
As in previous years each selector’s choice is curated as a small exhibition within the whole, and within each selection the opportunity to see works by, as yet, lesser known artists hanging alongside pieces by those who are internationally recognised. In addition within the exhibition you will see a further small exhibition of the shortlisted pieces for the DE drawing bursary, the recipient of which will be decided during the course of the exhibition.
A huge thank you our sponsors, ING without whose long-standing and generous support we could not stage this annual exhibition. In particular Małgorzata Kołakowska, their CEO and the team at ING in London who have led on their involvement with this year’s exhibition. Another huge thank you to Tony Humphreys who has retired as the Discerning Eye Chief Executive.
Without his tireless work and dedication the Discerning Eye charity would not be in its 30thyear and the whole board extends profound thanks for all of his work and support, and for his agreeing to be one of the selectors this year. Finally I should like to thank Parker Harris, our exhibition organisers, whose hard work, skill and enthusiasm is matchless, staff at the Mall Galleries and all of the many and various supporters of The Discerning Eye.
The Discerning Eye
ING is proud to have been supporting the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition for the last 23 years – making ours one of the longest-standing corporate arts sponsorships in the UK. We are so proud that this continuity remained throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with the first virtual ING Discerning Eye Exhibition being held in 2020 and this year seeing the first hybrid exhibition.
We have the best of both worlds, the chance to see art physically in the gallery again or to view these remarkable curations by our selectors online at a time and location that suits best. Such innovative and digital solutions have proved effective at providing greater opportunity to introduce UK-based artists to new audiences – in the UK and now around the world.
Art and culture have always been important to many of our clients, as well as to our colleagues. We believe in the power of art to inspire, make connections, accelerate change and portray times we live in. With so much change in our lives, the role of art and artists remains incredibly important. The mission of Discerning Eye, to connect artists with collectors, is so relevant during these times.
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 Exhibition 2021 every success.
CEO, ING UK and Middle East
Selector Profile: Russell Tovey
I was so honoured to be asked to be a part of the selecting committee this year. I am a huge advocate for the arts and an avid art collector myself, so to be given an opportunity to select and curate from so many amazing varied works was so exciting. It's been a tough couple of years for us all and we need the arts now more than ever.
It is so important for us to see ourselves up on gallery walls and to understand our place in the world. I am always drawn to the figure, the face and body language, I always have been and something that I put down to being an actor. Expressions of the face and movements and shapes of the body fascinate me, so there is definitely this theme running through my selections.
I grew up loving pop art and cartoons respectively so the invitation to trust my instincts to gravitate towards colour will very much be seen in my selections. I also love animals, I am a massive dog lover and I am sure many people will find joy in the amount of dog images, in very many different mediums that will appear in my booth. There are many winners for all the prizes in my selections and I hope that they can be found within my curating, not that it is a competition, but it is.
Either way, I am so impressed and in awe of the work that have been submitted this year. There is so much talent, so many incredible storytellers who are using their hands to say the things that words simply cannot. Thank you to everyone who took the time to find inspiration from this, you have in turn very much inspired me.
Selector Profile: Adelaide Damoah
Selecting work from the open call was a challenging but fun and inspiring process. We had thousands off high quality applications to view and from which I had to choose my favourites. I’m sure you can see why this was challenging! At first, I was getting excited about work that was good and well executed, as well as those works that moved me. Once I realised I had selected way more than would fit in the gallery, and had unwittingly created a very extensive long list, I had to really consider what moved me – what made me have a visceral, embodied reaction. This is far from a logical way to select artwork but I had already selected a large number of very well executed works and needed to cut it down significantly. After some time, I realised that most of the works in my selection felt solid and somehow meaningful to me. At this point, I knew I was on the right track.
All of the judges will have had their own way of selecting. This is what makes this opportunity so unique. What I would like to say to the artists is that if this and other judging processes I have been involved with have taught me anything at all, it is not to take it personally if you are not selected. It doesn’t mean the work isn’t good. It could be that the work didn’t fit the curatorial vision of the selectors. And as an artist, you have no idea what that is. The great thing about this opportunity is that there are six judges and therefore six people with different tastes and visions. So six chances to get in. So if you didn’t get in this time, try and try again.
I am really excited about my invited artists and I have no idea what most of them will be submitting. I invited artists whose work I have admired for some time. I am particularly excited to see some new pollution absorbing sculptures by Dr Jasmine Pradessitto, another masterful hyperrealistic drawing by Kelvin Okafor, a funky new work by Emmanuel De Sousa, new abstract works by Othello De Souza Hartley and new sculpture work by Arlene Wandera. Of course I’m very excited by the prospect of seeing works from all of the ladies from the two collective I am a founding member of- the BBFA Collective and the INFEMS art collective.
Like most of us who work in this industry, I am particularly excited that things appear, at least at the moment (touch wood), to be going back to normal – as evidenced by the fact that Frieze week seemed to go without a hitch and there were a tonne of fabulous events to attend. I am very happy about the fact that we get to physically place these works in the Mall Galleries and to have several in person events around the exhibition (all being well of course, fingers crossed). However, I think the pandemic has taught us what the real value of art is, especially with regard to our mental health. We need it to sustain and connect us- those of us who make it, those of us who love it, those of us who are indifferent and even those of us who hate it or claim not to understand it.
If fair season has shown me anything, it is how badly we have all missed being able to physically be with great art and each other to discuss it and absorb its magic. Getting to see shows again has shown me how resilient art is and how important it is to help us to interpret, digest and heal from the trauma we have all faced. Seeing the various ways other artists have used their work to deal with everything has been nothing short of inspirational. But art has always done this for humans, it’s just that sometimes we forget.
I think it will be fascinating to look back on the work produced now in five, 10 and 20 years time. Then we will really see in retrospect if we as artists have managed to capture the spirit of the times we are living in.
Selector Profile: Peter Brown PNEAC
To be honest I was slightly dreading the selection. Ominously we were sent a box of delicious goodies to see us through. This was a worrying sign! We are usually supplied with weak coffee and a digestive. However I was immediately heartened by the very first entries… and it continued!
It occurred to me that it is in fact a great privilege to see the wide spectrum of art being produced inside and outside of studios around the country.
This is a real taste of contemporary art in the UK today. We are served establishment art by the BBC and fun competition art by Sky but this dug underneath all that.
Our attitude as selectors was ‘as long as it gets in that’s ok - no matter whose wall’. So I would be delighted to see groups of work I liked being hoovered up by the others for their walls. I am no curator, I just want to see good work aired.
So I would say enjoy the show – its variety and its quality and remind ourselves that the art we normally get served up is a tiny tip of the iceberg. We must endeavour to support both emerging talent and offer those that would not perhaps consider art an option in their lives the chance to have a go. My only regret is that we could not have three times as much on our walls.
Selector Profile: Tony Humphreys
It is well documented that I first visited the Discerning Eye exhibition as a guest and then, more by chance than design, became CEO, responsible for guiding the charity and its annual event based on creator and founder Michael Reynolds’ original vision, exhibition format and guiding principles.
It has been a great pleasure helping to build The Discerning Eye’s success over the many years of my involvement and it is a privilege that my final contribution is now as a selector, following in the footsteps of the many generous and committed art lovers who have accepted the challenge in previous years.
And it is a challenge, albeit a pleasant one. From deciding which artists to invite, to whether there will be a theme, style or medium guiding your choice of works from the open submission, it is a journey of joy and fear of disappointing others as you curate your own mini exhibition from the magnificent array of desirable works by so many talented artists.
However, you can only show a limited number of works; so difficult decisions must be made. My final selection is as eclectic as the exhibition itself. I couldn’t cover everything but have tried to reflect as wide a variety of works as possible.
I hope you enjoy it and more importantly find something you like.
Selector Profile: Roland Cowan
Selecting works has been uplifting experience. It has been a journey through British creativity. The works have ranged from the figurative to the abstract. All the works submitted carried the same message: That we live in a hugely creative country. Undiminished by a global pandemic, the visual arts are alive and well in the UK. The sheer quantity of creativity was enthusing.
I would like to hope that the art selected will act as inspiration; and be a reference for appreciating, thinking, and discussing, the art of the present.
In selecting art it is almost always inevitable that my personal aesthetic effects my appreciation of works. For this exhibition I worked hard to focus on what came out as strong works, regardless of subject matter. Though my predilection towards a deep enjoyment of abstraction does come through in some choices.
I hope visitors will be able to enjoy, be challenged, stimulated, and be involved in the visual discussion between the art and the viewer.
Looking at art being made now in 2021 in the UK it is clear that painting and drawing is very much alive, well, and thriving. This is evident from the Discerning Eye to the current Hayward Gallery, to the Royal Academy, and numerous gallery exhibitions. (please leave this last bit out of the book)
Selector Profile: Anna Brady
The selection process — though lengthy! — was a real treat, getting to see such a variety of works, and only have to sit with a cup of tea and pick the ones that caught our eye.
The group selection was fun, gradually learning everybody else’s tastes and guessing what they would go for, and who shared a similar eye, but then I also enjoyed going through the works at my own pace. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what drew me to the works but I suppose, due to the nature of the selection process, it had to be something with real immediacy, something that spoke to you instantly. Having just reported on Frieze Week as I write this, I am reminded again of how many different art worlds there are.
The top echelons of the contemporary market having very little to do with “real life” and there is a worrying trend for very young artists, only a few years after graduating, having their work used as commodities by investor or speculator collectors, who flip them into auction to sell for million-plus sums.
This glitzy, arguably pretty cynical end of the market is a million miles away from the art world that most of us inhabit and from the ING entries—these are artists working quietly in their studios, from their kitchen tables or on an easel set up in the corner of a sitting room. And that, in my opinion, is how it should be.