The Plate Show. Compass Gallery Christmas Exhibition.

December 1999

Publication: The Times

To most of us, a plate is a purely functional object; ask what the last plate we ate from looked like and you will probably draw a blank.  But the history of these utilitarian objects is far from bland:  at one time decorative porcelain imported from China was a great status symbol, loudly proclaiming the wealth of its owner.  And for a while, this white clay was more valuable than gold. 

The current exhibition aims to elevate the perception of the humble plate above mere usefulness to an art-form worthy of the deepest and most wide-ranging expression.  350 plates of all shapes and sizes  — from around 125 contemporary makers — are on display here  and many have been specifically commissioned from invited artists. And although a good number acknowledge the traditions of the past, a host of new forms, techniques and decorative modes are also to be found.

Lise Hodgkinson became a potter’s apprentice in Japan and her work pays homage to the traditions of that country — she works with porcelain, using cobalt underglazes and multicoloured overglazes.  But her plates fuse eastern and western tradition as in ‘Isaiah 1:18’ — which surely owes a lot pictorially to Hokusai — here the red blossoms represent sin and the white ones the cleansed soul.

Christine Farrell’s ‘Kail Yard’ is a thoughtful assembly, drawing on the Scottish tradition of “high tea” and evoking the slogan “a clean plate means a clean conscience” which had currency during the War.  However instead of cakes, cabbages — both pictorial and ceramic objects — decorate the plates (“kail” is Scots for cabbage).  The work is thought-provoking because of its well-made synthesis of local history, tradition, craft and art.

Many of the plates make reference to their original function such as Caroline Taylor’s ‘Pig-Piggy-Porker-Pork’ although there is perhaps more interest here in the semantic nuances inherent  in the title than in the actual plate.  A number of the artists use the plate as a vehicle for ideas without acknowledging its purpose and potential as a sculptural object in its right— and although this is not necessarily a problem, one cannot help but ask if they would otherwise have chosen to work in such a way had they not been invited to do so.  Perhaps that is the point.

However, one of the great strengths of the show is that it brings together artists from various disciplines and includes not only ceramists but also painters, printmakers and sculptors.  One artist who works in two of these media is Ian McCulloch, who along with Bill Brown, has made ‘Salomés Platter’ which combines the art of the ceramist with the printmaker.  Marlene Ivey, who is also accustomed to working in different media, has used computer aided print technology to transfer a pattern to the stoneware surface which has been distorted and is now convex rather than concave.  There is a fusion of form and pattern which alludes to water and thus by association its political and ecological significance, an area on which she has focused elsewhere.  There is much variety and quality here and the show certainly repays a visit.


The Plate Show

The Collins Gallery

University of Strathclyde

22 Richmond Street


Until 23 Dec 1999


Cyril Gerber who has run the Compass Gallery for many years has operated as an important patron in Scotland, particularly for younger, un-established artists.  At the gallery’s annual Christmas show, which is as ever a very mixed affair, there is ample evidence of Gerber’s patronage, as well a his well honed skill as a dealer. You will for example find the work of Howard Hodgkin, Elizabeth Blackadder and John Hoyland rubbing shoulders with lesser known artists. Among these is Shelagh Atkinson whose photo-etchings are of particular interest.    Elsewhere, Mark  l’Anson’s portraiture is especially strong — the artist almost seems to be pointing a wide angle lens close up to the subjects face, so that there perspectives are distorted and uncomfortable. 

Miriam Vickers’ charcoal life studies are particularly vibrant as are those by Whitney Byng, whose work stands out because of the way the lines of her have been given purposeful energy.  In a different vein, Alison Harper’s work celebrates love on a mythic and archetypal level using strong, non-naturalistic colour.

There is something for all tastes and budgets here in a selection which reveals the eye of a shrewd and discerning collector operating at the more traditional end of the artistic spectrum.


Compass Gallery Christmas Exhibition

Compass Gallery

178 West Regent Street


0141 221 6370

Until 31 Jan 2000


Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 08-12-99