Carl Plate

Blue Monument 11, 1968
PVA on canvas on masonite
96.2 x 127.4 cm
signed & dated ‘Carl Plate ‘68’ (upper right) and with Bonython Gallery, Sydney label (on the reverse)

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Bonython Gallery, Sydney
The Estate of Carl Plate, Sydney

Bonython Gallery, Sydney, 14-30 October 1968, cat. 9

Peter Bellew, catalogue for Bonython Gallery, 1968
Exhibition Commentary, Art & Australia, December 1968, illus vol 6 no.3, p. 196 illus in black and white

The artist and critic Elwyn Lynn wrote in 1969 of Plate’s Monument works that with them he aimed “to flatten the ‘void’ and re-activate it by centrally placed loose shapes. Though he abandoned the serialization of shapes, he preserved the clean, neutral ground.”

Chance elements appear in the work in forms that resemble torn paper, no doubt a reflection of the collages that Plate so regularly used in place of conventional preparatory sketches. The result is a vibrant, animated abstraction, with the cool, oceanic palette, absence of straight lines and use of negative space creating an image that is fluid but cleverly composed. It comes at an important time in Plate’s overall oeuvre when he had just returned from Paris on a residency funded by the Power Institute, University of Sydney, around which he produced a body of work that then critic at the Australian Laurie Thomas described as “controlled and disciplined, the work of a mature artist who has spent his life creating a language which he now uses with authority, sparely and coolly.”

Other Blue Monument works can be found in Australian public institutions, notably Blue Monument (1968) in Artbank's collection; Blue Monument No. 4 (1967) in the Reserve Bank of Australia collection and Blue Monument No. 5 (1967), now in the Art Gallery of Western Australia collection, which was originally acquired from Plate by the artist Rosalie Gascoigne. 

  • Blue Monument 11

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Soft, gently ragged masses emerged from an atmospheric matrix, fluctuating quietly, while lines strayed across them as if looking for the contours of a landscape form. Shifts of rhythm were given by clusters of leaf-like shapes, breaking away from their parent masses. The colours, bluish greens, browns, whites and elegiac greys – gave a calm face to images beneath which an implied world stirred uneasily. (Robert Hughes, The Art of Australia, Penguin Books, 1984, pp. 294-95.)

Returning from Europe after the Second World War, Carl Plate developed a profile as one of Sydney’s leading art world figures. A painter and collagist, he also ran the Notanda Gallery, an exhibition space and bookstore that served as a pivotal location for introducing contemporary art to Australia from Europe and the United States.

Inspired by encounters with Dada and Surrealist art and his travels through Europe and the Americas, Plate developed a style that was abstract, but with a dream-like undercurrent. He deployed colour to great effect, using a mostly reserved palette, though there are moments of vibrancy that attract the eye. At the same time, drawing was an integral component of Plate’s practice. “Colour,” he wrote in 1957, “although a joy to man’s soul, plays but a minor role in drawing, if it plays any role at all. The strength of drawing lies in its purity. Its purity makes it the most direct and personal of all forms of graphic expression.” This balance of opposites is a recurring feature in Plate’s work, which Bernard Smith felt “occupies a central, almost classical position between the linearists and the tonalists”.

Carl Plate exhibited extensively throughout his life alongside running the Notanda Gallery. In 1961, he was one of the “Sydney 9” group of abstract artists, exhibiting alongside John Olsen and William Rose. In 2006-07, the Art Gallery of New South Wales exhibited examples of Plate’s works from their collection. In 2009, an exhibition of his prolific collage works, ‘Carl Plate: Collage, 1938-1976’ was staged at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre. His work is represented in state and national collections in Australia, and in private collections in Australia, Europe and the United States.