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'Graph Segments No 1' 1961 featured in Laverty Collection Auction


Deutsche Hackett Auction

The Cell Block Theatre, National Art School, SYDNEY Wednesday 5 April


The last time that I spoke to Col Laverty was at the Melbourne Art Fair in 2012. We talked one on one for about an hour. As was often the case, the conversation quickly turned to abstract art as he told me a story about a Michael Taylor painting he had recently purchased. The purchase had coincided with an unexpected improvement in Col’s health and he enthusiastically credited this to the ‘restorative power of abstract art’. Col had a manner of talking about painting that was distinctive; maintaining direct eye contact and always softly spoken, he would gently nod his head at you as he spoke. This had a twofold effect for it reinforced the fact that he was telling you something you needed to know, and it also conveyed the feeling that he expected a response. Words were chosen carefully or nothing was said at all. Col’s remarks on this occasion have stayed with me as a reminder of how rare a collector like Col Laverty is. His deeply felt belief in the importance of abstract art was second only to that of the artists who dedicated their lives to creating it. Michael Taylor, Tony Tuckson, Dick Watkins, Peter Upward, Richard Larter and Carl Plate were amongst his favourites. A special place was held for artists who had been ground breakers, those who had laid the ground work for others to follow. Colin Laverty himself was a ground breaker in his professional life – the results of his work in pathology research continue to have an enormous impact around the world. Carl Plate falls into this category; he was the Pied Piper of the Sydney school of abstract painting, which is characterised by artists whose abstract works are deeply seeded in nature. Twenty years older than Olsen and Upward, the well-travelled student of International Modernism, Plate would have been a senior figure to a gaggle of younger abstract painters. Plate’s art book shop and gallery Notanda in Sydney, was central to the growth of the contemporary art movement in Sydney. It provided a venue for artists to exhibit and a place where the free exchange of ideas was encouraged. In an interview with Laurie Thomas in 1968, Plate remarked ‘…One is aware of a dimension which is non-visual, but you can’t be too explicit about it – to make something visually which doesn't relate specifically to anything visual but which exists in a timeless area. A thing which has been created as something to look at must somehow incorporate within itself all the concentrated experience which may or may not create a reaction in the person who looks at it. I would like to think that somewhere, somehow, in my pictures is something that people can respond to; but I'm humble enough to wonder whether they can’.1 The major examples of Plate’s Graph Segments series are amongst his most important works. The Art Gallery of New South Wales holds Graph Segments, 1963-4; this work is closely related to the present work in every way. The gallery notes are as follows... Graph Segments, 1961, belongs to a group of paintings produced in the early 1960s notable for their large scale and dynamic application of mellow earth colours, and re-affirm his belief in the employment of randomness and chance in art as practiced by Surrealist artists Paul Klee and André Breton... The work of Carl Plate occupies a central, almost classical position between the liners and tonalists. Tone is the architectonic base of his work. Line is reduced largely to crisp edges which articulate a shallow space and maintain the surface tension across the pictorial structure. Colour is muted to greys, pale blues and olive greens, with an occasional warm accent. By this means Plate seeks to figure forth in plastic form his imitations of the non-visible. And in his work, as in that of Rose [William], the French heritage is notably present; behind him there stand such artists as Braque, the later Matisse, Hans Arp even, in his feeling for weight and placement, in the delicate confrontation and articulation of the elements of the compositions.2 Sydney’s enduring tradition of lyrical abstract painting owes an enormous debt to the efforts of Carl Plate. The late William Rose, Peter Upward and Stan Rapotec are just a few past masters of the genre. Artists such as Michael Johnson, John Olsen and the younger Ildiko Kovacs continue to carry the flame through the generations. These artists and many more working today can trace their lineage back to the ground breaking exhibitions at Sydney’s Hungry Horse Gallery and Gallery A. At both these historic venues Carl Plate presented his exhibitions to a wide eyed younger audience hungry for painterly innovation. 1. ‘Carl Plate: works from the collection’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, accessed online 21 February 2017, 2. Smith, B., Australian Painting 1788 – 1970, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1962, p. 363 HENRY MULHOLLAND

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