ING’s annual Discerning Eye exhibition, now open for entries, brings together six cultural pioneers to select works from an open submission and offers a key platform for new and established artists. Illustrator Gill Button is one of 2019’s panel, creating oil paintings, watercolours and ink drawings that translate intuitive thoughts into works of art. The artist discusses her role as selector, delving into her practice and experiences of making art in the digital age.
A: Each ING Discerning Eye selector is given the opportunity to invite artists whose work they admire, as well as choosing new pieces from the open submission. What drew you to become an exhibition selector?
GB: It’s such an amazing opportunity. The prospect of being able to choose work I love, created by artists I admire, in such a great space… it really wasn’t a difficult decision to make. The real excitement lies in the mystery of the general submissions; I can’t wait to start spotting those stand-out pieces and to discover new talent.
A: You have a strong presence on Instagram, which has led to collaborations with Gucci, Dries van Noten and several features in Vogue. Was this a turning point for your career?
GB: I began using Instagram shortly after I had started to revaluate my working practice, so I was already at bit of a turning point. At that time, it was a great incentive to keep me painting – and a wonderful environment to find and interact with other artists. It was still quite a new platform back then, so I had no real expectations, but quite rapidly things started to snowball.
The first ‘real’ thing to happen through it was my Paris gallery finding me. In fact, most of the galleries I have shown with since have found me this way. I think this is the case for a lot of artists now. The collaborations within the fashion world have been unexpected and a lot of fun. They’ve been a great way for my work to reach different audiences, which in turn has led to artist residencies and exhibitions, which has been wonderful.
A: How is social media being harnessed by artists?
GB: When I graduated it was just about who I could show my portfolio to in person; what doors in London I could knock on. Digital has made the whole world accessible for artists. The fact that an artist can now hole themselves away, take photos of their creations on their phone, and then have them instantly seen by people all around the globe is phenomenal. Getting people to look is another matter. There is no secret formula, but I truly believe that if you keep your head down, work hard, do your own thing, then the right people will start to find you.
The most vital aspect is the interaction these platforms allow between artists. The community spirit is amazing, giving and receiving support to each other even if we’ve never met in real life is precious – especially considering most of us work in solitude!
A: We live in a world which is becoming increasingly digital, allowing new talent to be discovered and popularised overnight. What is the value of initiatives like the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition – which offers artists a physical exhibition space and strives to uncover new talent in the traditional way?
GB: Showing work online is great, but every artist is painfully aware how much of their work is lost in translation. When people who have previously only seen my work on screen see it in flesh for the first time, I am always deeply touched by their generous comments about how much richer it is in real life; and I am invariably moved by other artists’ work when I see it in real life too.
After all, artwork is ultimately about its presence in reality. Original pieces will go on to enrich other people’s lives for years to come. Initiatives such as the ING Discerning Eye Exhibition – that offer a real platform – are vital in helping artists take a step outside the safety of the digital bubble.
A: How do the pieces translate thoughts and emotions into tangible images?
GB: We commonly refer to ‘first impressions.’ We don’t know a stranger’s life story, but we somehow have a sense of their soul. I think my work comes from a similar place; I’m drawn more to moments than specific muses, capturing something from a glance, a mood that was caught in the time of a shutter speed. I find that these unguarded, fleeting moments can often be more honest and revealing than a subject in a chair in front of you. The wealth of source imagery for me online is endless – scrolling through and then stopping when I meet a face that speaks to me.
Emotional honesty is much more important to me than an exterior likeness. The pieces translate empathy for the emotion I feel resonating from the eyes in the photograph. I need to reach that place of being fully connected, then I’ll paint and hopefully it will be translated onto the canvas.
A: How does your practice merge the worlds of fashion and fine art?
GB: When it comes to portraiture or just simply painting people, I think fashion inevitably plays a part. If you take a walk around the National Portrait Gallery, or think about the Pre-Raphaelites, look at Manet’s Olympia, the work of Kees Van Dongen, and so on, you cannot divorce fashion from fine art. From my point of view, if I have enough freedom within a commission to be true to my painting and there’s mutual respect, then fashion collaborations can be a joy.
A: As a selector for the 2019 edition of ING Discerning Eye, what are you looking for in an artwork?
GB: What I love. An emotional reaction comes first; an intangible reaction of the heart. As a practitioner I’m interested in materials, so it gives me real pleasure to see an artist mastering their chosen medium, but also pushing and playing with it to create something unique.
A: How important are initiatives such as ING Discerning Eye for emerging artists?
GB: I think any opportunity to present your work should be fully embraced. Showing work online is fantastic, but to get it seen in the flesh is what it’s really all about. One of the special things about the ING Discerning Eye is that artists at all different stages of their career are shown alongside each other, which is a rare and wonderful opportunity.
The ING Discerning Eye Call for Entries is now open. This year’s selectors are cultural pioneers from across the creative industries, including: Artistic Director of the Young Vic Kwame Kwei-Armah; Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony award-winning lyricist Sir Tim Rice; illustrator Gill Button, whose commissions include Vogue and Gucci; Professor of Fine Art at London College of Fashion Charlotte Hodes; former Discerning Eye Chairman John Penrose and former Associate Culture Editor for The Sunday Times Louis Wise.
The ING Discerning Eye Exhibition 2019 is now calling for entries. The deadline to pre-register online is 27 August, 5pm. Register now or find out more at:
For regular updates, follow @ingdiscerningeye on Instagram.