Carl Plate: life and works

By Gwylym Owen

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Carl Olaf Plate (19 December 1909 – 15 May 1977) was a prominent Australian modernist painter and collage artist.

Born in Perth, Western Australia, Plate was the son of German born artist and writer Adolph Gustav Plate and the younger brother of artist Margo Lewers.

While operational in advertising, he studied part-time at the East Sydney Technical College during 1930–34. In 1935 Plate travelled to Europe via Cuba, Mexico and the USA. Between 1935–40 he studied at Central School of Arts and Crafts below Bernard Meninsky and at St Martins School of Art under Vivian Pitchforth where he was influenced by Pitchforth’s ideas on ‘holistic composition’. The 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition stimulated his inclusion in collage. While booming in London he then travelled extensively in Europe, including Scandinavia and the USSR.

Returning from France in 1940, he re-established the Notanda Gallery in Rowe Street Sydney, as a contemporary art gallery and sophisticated book and print shop focussing upon Modernism. Between 1940 and 1943 Plate curated many exhibitions at the Notanda Gallery including England Today: Exhibition of Modern British Art featuring 64 works by 34 artists including Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, and Ben Nicholson; a Balinese art show, 20th Century Masters, a acquit yourself of prints including Braque, Klee, Kokoschka, Odilon Redon, Dalí and Modern French Art which included works by Braque, Joan Miró and Picasso. Notanda Gallery next presented solo exhibitions by Plate and Desiderius Orban.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Plate was a prominent board supporter and exhibitor of the NSW Branch of the Contemporary Art Society (Australia).

Plate had 28 solo exhibitions in his lifetime. and was the first Australian non-figurative artist to have solo exhibitions in London and New York, at the Leicester Galleries, 1959 and Knapik Gallery, 1962 which included Graph Segments No. 1. He exhibited in numerous work exhibitions including Contemporary Australian Painting which toured the Pacific in 1956, Recent Australian Painting at the Whitechapel Gallery, Australian Contemporary Art at the São Paulo Biennial in 1961 and Australian Painting Tate Gallery London, 1962. Plate was a believer of the activity calling themselves Sydney 9, which included Robert Hughes, Robert Klippel, Clement Meadmore, John Olsen and Stanislav Rapotec, holding exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne to achievement that as capably as the Antipodeans, the Sydney abstractionists were an important portion of the Australian art scene. He was represented by the Hungry Horse Gallery and Bonython Gallery, Sydney and Galerie de France in Paris. In 1967 he won the Aubusson Tapestry-Australian Wool Board Prize (dual), travelling to France to answer the tapestry design.

Plate lived and worked most of his sparkle in the Sydney suburb of Woronora and lived and worked in France for lengthy periods. He was a near friend of applauded Greek writer Costas Taktsis. Taktsis’s novel The Third Wedding Wreath is dedicated to Plate. Plate died at Woronora in 1977.

In the same year the Art Gallery of New South Wales presented a retrospective of his work Project 22, Carl Plate 1909–1977. His collages and paintings are represented in many collections including the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Newcastle Art Gallery, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery, Reserve Bank of Australia, Artbank, Merz Collection USA, Cornell University Collection, Australian Embassy Washington and private collections in Argentina, Australia, France, New Zealand, Greece, UK and the USA.

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