Menzies Art Brands



Rick Amor first began to paint Melbourne with regularity during the 1990s, before the days of small bars, tattooed baristas and council-sanctioned street art. It was an era characterised by economic stagnation, muscular unionism, a heroin crisis and emerging gangland conflict. Though written some years later, Peter Temples Miles Franklin-winning novel, Truth, powerfully evokes the foreboding atmosphere of Melbourne during this period:

In the ghostly city, he saw the newspaper bales being dumped, the lost people, the homeless, the unhinged [] a malbred dog in a gutter, eating something, shaking his grey eusuchian head. He crossed the bridge, the mist opened and showed a skiff as thin as a pencil, two men drawing a line on the cold river.1

Having grown up in bayside Frankston, Amor first became acquainted with Melbourne during occasional visits to the city in childhood. As revealed some decades later, the artist retained a nostalgic fondness for the city of his youth: The places I look for are the places that remind me that Melbourne hasnt changed. The areas I go to are the areas that were there when I was a kid.2 Amors cityscapes are frequently dominated by the stone edifices of Victorian-era Melbourne: the Supreme Court, barristers chambers on William and Lonsdale Streets, the State Library and Parliament House.

Amors paintings of Melbourne often draw upon a paradox of modern cities: that despite having been constructed by - and for - their human inhabitants, cities often conjure feelings of alienation and displacement. This notion was a common undercurrent in the literature of twentieth-century modernists Franz Kafka, George Orwell and TS Eliot, which Amor has consulted at length.3

Tramstop is a quintessentially Melburnian picture, its title referring to the citys most ubiquitous form of public transport. Yet the subject of this painting is not altogether straightforward: the tram itself has been omitted from the scene, and it is unclear whether our perspective is that of a passenger or a mere bystander on the empty street. Railings, street lamps, wiring and traffic lights intersect to form a complex lattice of horizontal and vertical lines. The traffic lights stop signal, denoted by a patch of bright vermillion, introduces a note of tension: the viewers future trajectory is unknown. Amors signature figure - the solitary watcher as identified by Gary Catalano in his monograph of the same title - appears in the form of a portly middle-aged man, who gazes at the viewer with vaguely sinister intent.4 As is typical of Amors landscapes, the artists use of perspective is deliberately ungratifying, the sunlit vanishing point obscured by leafless trees and a buildings curved faade. Amors urban scenes frequently alternate between visual revelation and concealment - the viewers gaze is inevitably drawn to where it can progress no further. As Gary Catalano has observed, the channels of space within the paintings ruthlessly determine the manner and direction in which the eye can move.5

Amors landscapes are saved from dreariness by their perpetual sense of intrigue: curiosity has always made a good antidote to melancholy. As Gavin Fry asserts, Amor inhabits a world of calculated mystery rather than despair, of wry questioning and subtle influence.6 Together his narrow laneways, misted windows, idling cars and lone onlookers offer up an abundance of narrative possibilities. It is this sense of unknowability - combined with Amors consummate technical skill - that explains his enduring influence and appeal.

1. Temple, P., Truth, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2009, p.117
2. Catalano, G., The Solitary Watcher: Rick Amor and his Art, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2001, p.149
3. Ibid., p.149
4. Ibid., p.155
5. Ibid., p.152
6. Fry, G., Rick Amor, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2008, p.104

Catherine Baxendale B. Phil (Hons), MA (Art Curatorship)

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