Mall Galleries' regulars will know Jack Sutherland and Henry Byrne as our brilliant bespectacled Duty Managers. However, some of you may not know that they are both fantastic painters. This year's upcoming ING Discerning Eye exhibition features two works each by Henry and Jack. In this two-part interview Anna Preston, Mall Galleries Bookshop Assistant, spoke with her talented colleagues to discuss their thoughts on this year’s exhibition. Part One focuses on the exhibition itself and Part Two expands on the discussion to explore the enigmas of Jack and Henry’s artistic practices and experiences.
PART ONE: The Exhibition
Hi guys, can you introduce us to the works you will have in the show?
Jack Sutherland: Cut Tooth and Small German Painting are the two paintings I have in this year’s ING Discerning Eye exhibition. Cut Tooth is actually one half of a sometimes diptych called Tooth Root. Two paintings that were made at similar times in my studio gravitated towards each other and I enjoyed hanging them as a pair, but this exhibition will only see one half.
Henry Byrne: My two pictures, Rubbish on Whitechapel Road and Marian Court are small oil paintings depicting narrative nocturnal scenes. My oeuvre is mainly portraiture, so it’s interesting to be exhibiting works which are figurative but not of people. It is possible to say that I have approached the objects from the position of a portrait painter.
Jack Sutherland, Small German Painting
Tantalizing! Discerning Eye is made up of six distinct shows selected by six judges. There are 727 pieces by 405 artists on show in total, which seems an enormous scale for any exhibition. All works are, however, small-scale. What are your thoughts regarding both the scale of the works and the scale of the exhibition?
HB: I have been working on the 25/30cm format for some time. I enjoy the immediacy of the application and completion. As a result I tend to paint ideas as soon as they materialise without too much cognition. Upon reflection I take the ones I like and rework them or increase the scale. For me, smaller paintings reduce an idea to its most basic elements. Scale restriction in the show is a compelling concept, I am interested to see how others work with that scale.
JS: In regard to the size of the show, it really can be quite intimidating as a viewer. To come into the exhibition and be faced with a mass of similar sized works can immediately cause some people to glaze over, to skim across the surface of all the works in one fell swoop, and never really give each piece the time it might deserve. However, viewing it as six exhibitions in one space makes the task of taking it all in a little less daunting. It also gives the viewers the opportunity to create their own selection out of all the works on display. As for the scale of the work, I tend to lean towards works of that size, and feel comfortable working on a smaller scale. It certainly makes them easier to transport.
Jack Sutherland, Cut Tooth
Discerning Eye champions artistic diversity, with the judges selecting work using wildly ranging criteria. Henry, your painting Marian Court was selected by Chris Orr RA, whose criteria valued figurative and narrative work which can 'confirm and develop human experience'. How does your creative process enable you to tell a story with paint?
Henry Byrne, Marian Court
HB: My works focuses on, what I believe, are often overlooked areas. These areas are common and do not generally get much attention. Marian Court is evocative of a stage waiting for an event to occur. Colour is very important here as it creates the anticipatory mood. The painting's focus is such that with a little simplification it could be an abstract work. The intention of the work is to echo past experience.
Jack, Small German Painting I was chosen by the artist Dan Coombs who cites Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's 'polyvalent rhizome' as his basis for selection. For those who are - forgivably - unfamiliar with Post-Structuralist thought, a rhizome is a botanical root structure which Deleuze and Guattari used as an illustrative metaphor to argue that infinite ideas or objects could be connected through an infinite web of possibilities which has no central or focal point. This means that the viewer has the responsibility to connect each individual work to the others. Do you consciously employ a methodology or concept while creating your work, and do you think Dan Coombs' use of post-structuralism will affect how you perceive Small German Painting I?
JS: I think the concept of the polyvalent rhizome is an exceedingly applicable method upon which to base a selection, and I do believe that my own practice relates to that method of selection. Not all of my paintings are thematically linked, they don’t all employ the same processes in their making, and my interests and influences change and develop with each painting made. Though, when viewed as one body of work, I think that they are all connected and have all been pushed through the procedure of being made by my hand.
Looking at the two paintings I have in the exhibition, a viewer could be forgiven for thinking that they were made by two different people. However, they are both very much interested in the ideas of surface, texture, materiality, and optical depth. They are two nodes in the rhizome.
Perhaps we can perceive the whole exhibition rhizomatically. I find it interesting that as artists you represent very different genres of contemporary painting, and yet the poet and critic Michael Glover selected both Cut Tooth and Rubbish on Whitechapel Road. His theme is 'The Helplessness of the Winners' - how do you think your works relate to each other within this brief?
JS: Looking at Michael’s specification, I do not envy the task of being a judge and having to go through the selection process. Everyone who comes into the exhibition will judge your selection, and I feel you would have to have a strong belief in the choices you make. You can enter the selection process with a rough concept, but would surely have to resort to fairly instinctual choices that have been influenced by decades of decisions that have formed your tastes and opinions.
HB: The object of Rubbish on Whitechapel Road is actually rubbish, specifically a box belonging to a 60 inch television discarded on the street. It is a broad statement on the pressures of consumerism. Lifestyle expectations become symbols of cultural tribes. The works focus is on the residue, the waste that is produced. It is an Allegory. I also thought the shapes resembled industrial structures (which Stanley Spencer painted so well). I liked the fact that in appearance it echoed our industrial past without current industry consumerism.
JS:Cut Tooth and Rubbish on Whitechapel Road could have been chosen because Michael Glover is interested in painting that pushes objects towards the surface and away from it. Or it could be because he enjoys the rough assembly or form that is played with in both paintings. Looking at his specification would suggest to us that they were both brazen and full-in-the-face, and spoke to him on that day.
Henry Byrne, Rubbish on Whitechapel Road
Are you familiar with the work of the judges who selected your pieces, and if so do you have any inkling insights into why they identify with your paintings?
HB: The subject matter of my work tends to focus on common, everyday objects. For instance the works in the show depict a London street and some rubbish bags - producing work based on relatable ideas is an important personal, artistic objective. I am very pleased to have been selected by two different judges.
JS: I was introduced to Dan Coombs' work via some meetings held under the banner of Abstract Critical, and have since viewed his painting with great interest. His Instagram offers wonderful views into the process behind his paintings and the influences he draws on. He also acted as a tutor to a friend (Emma Cousin) who is also in this year’s exhibition. Sadly, my knowledge of poetry is puddle-deep, but I am tremendously appreciative of Michael Glover for selecting one of my paintings.
Find out more at: discerningeye.org
See more of Jack’s work here: jacksutherland.co.uk