As Glasgow -based ceramic artist Barbara Bates knows all too well, the history of art is replete with tales of artists who applied their creative talents to the humble plate. In recent art history, Picasso is probably one of the best known artists to paint plates, but as Barbara explains, the tradition of painting on plates goes back centuries. Right back to China in ancient times and on to Ancient Greece and Rome.

“People know about Picasso’s ceramics,” she says, “but a lot of artists in the twentieth century embraced painting on plates. The Famous Women Dinner Service is a 50-piece ceramic dish set made in the 1930s by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant of the famous Bloomsbury Group. It features portraits of famous women from history, from Hollywood star Greta Garbo to the Queen of Sheba. It’s quite phenomenal.

“As I have discovered in the last few months, artists really like the idea of painting on plates.”

Barbara is the creative spark behind a project called Step Up To The Plate, which will see around 40 high profile artists, including arty comedians, Susan Calman and Phil Jupitus, Buzzcocks drummer, John Maher design one-off plates. The money raised at a special one-off auction at South Block in Glasgow’s Merchant City, on October 3 will all go towards Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS).


Step Up To The Plate has “grown arms and legs” since Barbara, who trained as a ceramicist at the Glasgow School of Art from 2003 to 2007, first came up with the idea. Barbara and her husband, Simon, have run Cafe Ceramico, a pottery, painting and soft play centre in East Kilbride since 2003.

She says: “I was keen to mark 15 years by doing something a bit different and more meaningful than having a party. This idea has been hatching for a while and we passed our 15th anniversary last year but I decided to start asking artists at the start of this year if they’d be interesting in contributing. We have worked with CHAS for six years; going out to families and doing hand and feet imprints in clay for children nearing the end of their lives. Like most things I end up doing, this came about when I started talking to a woman at a pilates class who worked for CHAS. We fell into conversation and she asked me what I did for a living. She asked me to get involved with CHAS and it’s an organisation which has become very important to me.

“We were keen that all the money raised from the sale of the plates went towards CHAS so Cafe Ceramico is covering the venue hire and all the plates and materials. We have very generous sponsors on board too and they are covering the hospitality on auction night.”

One of the first people Barbara approached was Susan Calman, who she knows through a friend. “I know that Susan is a very private person and I wasn’t sure if she’d be interested but when she said ‘yes’ right away, I was taken aback. This pretty much set the tone. The idea really captured people’s imagination. I wrote to several artists whose work I admire, such as Annette Edgar and Ross Muir and they said yes. Then I sent an email to June Carey, whose etchings and paintings I love. She got back to me immediately and said she’d happily get involved and said she’d ask some of her artist friends.

“Before I knew it, she came back to say that her friends; Rosemary Beaton, Heather Nevay, Alice McMurrough and Helen Wilson were all keen to contribute a design. I set up a Step Up To The Plate Instagram page at the start of July and that led to me contacting the likes of Phil Jupitus, who now lives in Fife, alongside other Fife-based artists, such as Celie Byrne, who is involved with the Kelty Street Art Collective.

“Through this connection, Donna Forrester and Vanessa Gibson came on board.”

Step Up To The Plate will introduce a wide range of artists, from emerging talent to established painters, to a new audience. It’s a stellar line-up and the list keeps growing. One of the youngest artist is PJ Harper, a third year Environmental Art and Sculpture student at the Glasgow School of Art. PJ, whose work interrogates the influence of family, race and identity.

PJ was recently featured on BBC Scotland’s Loop arts programme. Barbara says of his work: “His plate, like his sculpture, explores his Caribbean heritage and racial identity. His grandfather, the late Paul Winter, was born in Antigua and twice won the title of Mr Universe. He came to Britain in the 1950s and married PJ’s grandmother, Mary. His plate (pictured) reflects their story.” Over the course of the next month, Barbara will be collecting and firing the artists’ plates in the kiln at Cafe Ceramico. Every other day, another surprise arrives in the post. Last weekend, she admits to being overwhelmed when a package arrived at her home in the south side of Glasgow from Buzzcocks drummer, John Maher, now an acclaimed photographer based on Harris in the Outer Hebrides.

“In the same package, there was a plate from his friend – and my old neighbour – Joyce Graham, who is a textile artist based on the island. I was quite overwhelmed because Joyce played a big part in my own creative development from very early on.”

The plan for Step Up To The Plate is for all the work to be finished by September 15 with the exhibition being installed in the gallery area of South Block studios and on show from Monday September 29 until Thursday October 3. The auction, which will have an online catalogue, will take place from 8.45pm on the evening of October 3. Will you step up to the plate and take a look? All the plates will start at £50 and the auctioneer will take it from there.

Step Up To The Plate, 60-64 Osborne St, Glasgow G1 5QH, &; Exhibition opens on Monday September 29 and ends with auction on Thursday October 3.


Critic’s Choice:

The lure of storytelling is strong in figurative art and it features heavily in all the painters in this new exhibition at Fidra Fine Art in Gullane. Harry Holland, Alan Macdonald, Robert Macmillan and Paul Reid paint in very different styles but their work is threaded through with a distinctive visual narrative. Glasgow-born Harry Holland trained at St Martin’s School of Art in London. The technical rigour he applies to his drawing and painting allows his often whimsical compositions to enter into a plausible reality. This is a rare opportunity to see Holland’s work, which is held in a number of public collections including Tate, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the British Museum among many others, in his homeland.  Alan Macdonald was born and grew up in Malawi. A move to Scotland led to a period of study at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee and at Cyprus College of Art. The Carnoustie-based artist’s childhood still plays a key role in his work today. Paul Reid, also studied at DJCAD from 1994-1998. Choosing to paint figuratively, at a time when conceptual art was the norm, Reid was drawn to the classics as a source for narrative inspiration thereby narrowing his furrow further.  Robert Macmillan, also a student of DJCAD, graduated in 1997. The figures in his paintings exude a luminosity that creates a strange ethereal quality creating a mysterious, timeless, narrative. Unlike the other artists in this group his figures fill voids of empty spaces which accentuate the luminosity of the central figure. Influenced by great painters of the past, Macmillan employs a continual process of layering, scraping and glazing which results in richly textured surfaces similar to that in Rembrandt’s portraits. What’s The Story: Narrative Painting by Harry Holland, Alan Macdonald, Robert Macmillan & Paul Reid, Fidra Fine Art, 7-8, Stanley Road, Gullane EH31 2AD, 01620 249389,, until 22 September. Open Tue-Sun, 11am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm. Closed Monday. Free