Menzies Art Brands



Rick Amor turned seventy in March of this year, a milestone marking fifty years as a professional artist. After a measured start where he took on many lower order tasks in the artistic life, including cartooning and comic book illustration, he has risen to the very pinnacle of Australian art, esteemed by critics and collectors alike and producing works of great power and authority in his mature years. The path to that present position has not always been easy, with periods of self-doubt and personal demons to overcome, as well as some major health issues that saw him lucky to make fifty, let alone three score and ten.

When Rick Amor can be persuaded to discuss his art he does so without pretence or artifice. He makes it clear that there are no deeply hidden messages or grand themes, no lofty ambitions beyond the desire to make a work that is satisfying to the artist and engaging to the viewer. This is not to suggest his work is without depth or thought, but rather it is a matter of what you see is what you get. His meticulously planned and executed industrial landscapes, seascapes of Port Phillip and portraits all have an honesty and openness that draws in the viewer. Of his portraits he suggests that he does not seek to find personality and character traits, but rather believes that an engaging and convincing likeness is an achievement in itself. The hundreds of self-portraits he has made since the age of twelve document with scarifying directness the vicissitudes of the artistic life. He will however be ready to destabilise and tease the viewer with small elements that will keep the work alive in the longer term, moments of narrative that enliven an otherwise fixed landscape. This applies especially to his inner city and urban landscapes where dark and menacing buildings might house one lost figure gazing from a high window or scuttling down a dark lane. It is not surprising to know that Amor is a reader of crime fiction, for his gritty urban scenes are redolent of the places so beloved by writers and television producers around the world.

After growing up in bayside Frankston, Amor lived the inner city life before breaking free to the rural artists commune of Dunmoochin, a place that awakened his interest in landscape. The measured order of his teacher and mentor, John Brack (1920-1999), has always been present in his work, but for a period in the late 1980s he launched into a series of works that were powerfully expressive and almost angry in their execution. The rural contentment of Dunmoochin, with sleepy cows lying in the grass, gave way to nightmare scenes of waves crashing over broken piers and desperate figures seeking to escape the wrath of lurking sea creatures. The decay and fall of man-made structures in the face of a relentless nature became a prime subject, as did the lone running man who rushes to escape. That figure found his way into many of Amors compositions, at times just a small fleeting presence and at others as the main subject. So central did the running man become to his art that he found ultimate expression in the life-sized bronze figure dashing through the garden at Heide Museum of Modern Art.

Amors dark, menacing works from the 1980s focused also on urban landscapes  including the parks and streetscapes of inner Melbourne. While serving as delightful shaded groves on a hot summer day, at night they can be transformed into dark and ominous places, the old English trees casting impenetrable shadows defying the feeble streetlights. In Gardens by a City the artist has plunged into the centre of the darkened trees, the city skyline pushed back and away while a lone figure hurries toward an unknown assignation. Just as the artist made the placid waters of Frankston boil with the intensity of an arctic storm, so too he turns the manicured garden into a place of menace, a crime scene perhaps, with a story left untold.

Gavin Fry  BA [Hons], MA, MPhil


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