Nick Waterlow on Carl Plate
NICK WATERLOW ON CARL PLATE
From "Curating the COFA Collection", 2009 Carl Plate (1909-1977) was born in Perth, to a German father and English born mother, moving to Sydney in 1913. He studied under Raynor Hoff and Fred Leist at East Sydney Technical College, and his sister Margo Lewers, [who set up the original Notanda Gallery] was also an artist to achieve prominence. In 1935 he travelled to Europe via Cuba, Mexico and USA. In London he mixed with many influential artists and writers including Henry Moore, TS Eliot and Herbert Read. Whilst in France in 1940 he was detained as a suspected German spy; on release he reached England from where he returned to Sydney. There he set up the Notanda Gallery in Rowe Street and exhibited many of the foremost European and Australian artists of the time, as well as promoting the literature of modernism, until the Gallery's close in 1974. Plate, an active member of the Contemporary Art Society, lived in the hills behind the Woronora River outside Sydney. In London he saw the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition, which changed his view of the world. "Life itself is surreal. Its essential quality has always appealed. Not as a style but an attitude"(1). It is primarily in his collages , shown at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in 2009, that this is revealed. His better known painting practice, from the 1930s to the 1970s, was largely forged in abstraction with at times vestiges of cubism and abstract expressionism. "Each picture is a fresh exploration of form, not of a repetitious formula," wrote Daniel Thomas in 1963 (2). And much later,in 2009, ADS Donaldson expressed his admiration: "Carl Plate was one of Australia's most distinguished and accomplished mid-century artists. The galleries he showed in, the exhibitions he was part of, and the artists he was hung beside were the bright lights of their day"(3). 'Dark forms light segments', 1964, is a substantial and imposing painting, a generous gift of the late James Agapitos and Ray Wilson, that exemplifies Plate's oeuvre. Fissured shapes abound, amidst the disarming presence of imagined and shifting tectonic plates, as if seen from above. The landscape and its myriad appearances certainly inform this vision but the unique abstract language he developedcombined a European awareness and sensibility with an acute understandingof the psyche of the place he lived. His work was quite unlike any other artist in Australia of his generation, as difficult as that of Clyfford Still and similar in its relationship to the art prevailing. The recent revelation of his collages and their pioneering of the vertical slice foreshadowed Daniel Crooks' videos, maintaining Plate's relevance today. 1. Carl Plate, interview with Richard Haese, 29 June 1974, State Library of Victoria. 2. Daniel Thomas, Sunday Telegraph, Sydney,17.11.63, unpaginated. 3. ADS Donaldson, 'The Visible Coming to the aid of the non-visible: the collage of Carl Plate', Carl Plate Collage 1938-1976, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre, 2009, p. 63. Reproduced with the permission of the UNSW College of Fine Arts. 'Curating the COFA Collection' at Ivan Dougherty Gallery, 2009, by Nick Waterlow.