“I advise no girl to marry an artist who hasn’t been an artist herself … otherwise you cannot credit the focus an artist has on his own work.” These are the words of Carl Plate’s widow Jocelyn during an ABC interview in 2011.
Carl Plate was an important post war painter in Sydney and was one of the first exponents of abstract expressionism in Australia. He held one man exhibitions of his work at the Leicester Galleries in London in 1959 and the Knapik Gallery in New York in 1962 – he also held exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne.
Abstract painting in Australia had little market in the post war era as Australians were wary of the non-figurative theory that was sweeping the international art world. The art buyers were also being cautioned by the traditionalists to treat the new works as fraudulent. Those new works included artists of the stature of Pollock, Rothko, Warhol, Motherwell, De Kooning and Nicholson.
Added to the derision of the establishment, a group of well regarded young Australian artists signed the Antipodean Manifesto declaring that their work would remain true to figurative art, irrespective of what was happening overseas. The ideals of the Antipodeans touched the standards of the locals and the abstractionists were shunned as a consequence.
On his return to Australia in 1940 and to provide an income, Plate re-opened the Notanda Gallery in Sydney which became the hub of artistic action. Russell Drysdale and Donald Friend were regular visitors in addition to Lloyd Rees and Desidarius Orban – Notanda was the only gallery in Sydney where people could see reproductions of modern European art in colour and the gallery provided a war weary public some light relief from the incessant headlines of death and destruction.
Though the mainstay of sales was books, post cards and reproductions, art exhibitions were also held but as Plate would only exhibit works that he was interested in they weren’t regular events. Notanda was the first gallery in Australia to exhibit modern English art which included pieces by Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood. A critic at the time said that Nicholson’s work would make a nice design for a place mat.
For over two decades Notanda Gallery remained a cultural landmark in Sydney and it has been claimed that Carl Plate’s art was overshadowed by the success of his gallery. Jocelyn Plate thinks differently – “he was absolutely focussed on being a painter and was only interested in art” she said.
Carl Plate’s works are included in every major collection throughout Australia.