Menzies Art Brands



So often a sense of mystery emanates from the paintings of Rick Amor. During an interview published in Melbournes The Age newspaper the noted photographer Bill Henson made an interesting observation: Meaning comes from feeling not the other way around.1 Henson got it right and its a view that would certainly be accepted by Amor. For both artists, feeling is the signal beacon that lights the path to meaning. What one admires about these two artists is the ways that imbued sentiments are harnessed and suffused feelings are transmitted to the viewer of their works. Always, especially for Amor, it is a matter of the communicable over the representational.

Amors paintings pulse with such signals. It takes an artist of his calibre to centre the aesthetic attention of viewers by recalling pregnant moments, uncovering memories and unfolding scenes that were once, somewhere or somehow, caught in passing glances. On occasion, Amor is compared with Jeffrey Smart (1921-2013) as both artists utilize what might be called a visitational mode of seeing. That is, a conceptual mode that, almost unknowingly, turns the passive viewer into an active spectator of a visual drama.

There is, however, an important difference that throws Amors aesthetic offerings into a clearer light.

Smarts painted scenes are almost invariably seen through a car window a flicker of images, a glimpsed moment, an odd placement. In contradistinction, Amors painted scenes are viewed as though one has walked past them. As a consequence the viewers act of personal engagement with the painted reality is different and, accordingly, the emotional contact is different.

Amors is an ambulatory aesthetic one that is experienced and felt rather than, as in Smart, passed and recognized. In these ways Amor shares distant aesthetic parallels with the brooding imagined worlds of the German Symbolist artists Arnold Bcklin (1827-1901) and Max Klinger (1857-1920), the poetic placements and plazas of the Italian Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) and the much later urban scenes of city backstreets painted by the American Edward Hopper (1882-1967). There will always be artists of such poetic pensiveness and Amor sits comfortably in their company.

The present painting, The Absence of Philosophy of 2001/02, is just such a poetically inflected pensive work. It shows a small street with a narrow footpath at the base of a large monolithic building with a single multi-paned arch window within which may be seen the torso of a human skeleton. The street, almost certainly Little Lonsdale Street on the lower side of the State Library of Victoria in central Melbourne, is shadow-less (the small service-street rarely gets sunlight) and pictorially arranged to accentuate an imposing facade that is painted in a cascade of subtle greys enlivened by scumbled applications of magenta, sienna, umber and celadon tones in ways that lend it a certain brooding sensation caught within a rectilinear format that would not be out of place in Fritz Langs legendary film Metropolis, (1927).

It is as though, in its all-over lightness of touch and lack of shadows, the paintings depthless and almost abstracted format depicts a semi-translucent backdrop that acts as a visual foil to the ominous implications of the skeleton in the window. Such implications are somewhat alleviated when one recalls that the large window forms part of the area once occupied by the National Gallery School (relocated in 1973 and renamed as the Victorian College of the Arts where Amor was once a student and that skeletons were common anatomical object-lessons that could be found in almost all art school life-drawing rooms.2

Considered in this context the subject matter of Amors The Absence of Philosophy finds its imagist sources in a personal revisiting and recasting of his earlier memories: art school ambience; institutional presence; hulking architectonic structures and of time past of ephemerality juxtaposed against monumentality interposed without a hint of any Surrealist introjection or nostalgic sentimentalism.

One of the main themes in my work seems to be the passing of time, the vanity of human wishes, things pass, things decay, and things fall apart. The theme of decay and the passing of time seem to have an emotional resonance with me. I keep on returning to it over and over again (Amor, 2005).

Ive always thought that behind the faade of building all sorts of mysterious things go on. I suppose its from my childhood and reading Kafka. I like to suggest that behind prosaic realities something else is lurking (Amor, 1994).3

The pictorial scene in Amors The Absence of Philosophy of 2001/02 with its hints of archaic solemnity and mausoleum-like gravity displays distinct aesthetic and formal links to his contemporaneous painting The Chambers of 2002. It shares its tenebrous characteristics, its overbearing architectural insistence and its dwarfing structural presence. These elements and the two paintings subdued tonal palette may also be found in Amors painting The Silence of 2001, which depicts part of a Hall of Antiquities (probably the one that once existed in front of the National Gallery School) emanating a palpable sense of stillness and aeons-old mystery.

These paintings, The Absence of Philosophy prominent amongst them, are important parts of a series that centred upon the enigmatic atmosphere and ponderable qualities of large public buildings. All three of these significant paintings possess a permeated quality as though they had been steeped in sensation and now remain brimful of associations. It is this that makes Amor the most accomplished conveyor of mood and intimated feeling. Without feeling and wonder there is just depiction and design.

Amors paintings are represented in thirty-seven major collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, Geelong Art Gallery, Mildura Arts Centre, Newcastle Regional Art Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery, Heide Museum of Modern Art and The University of Melbourne. Furthermore, he has won eleven art grants and prizes and is the subject of seventy-one publications and fifty-seven journal articles and reviews.

Rick Amors The Absence of Philosophy of 2001/02 shows the then fifty-four year old artist at a midway point in his investigation of the relationships between the intractable presence of monolithic structures and the contingent existence of individual human beings. The present painting goes a little further than this and is the only one of the series that has a distinct autobiographical note one that recalls a private memory of place and a personal moment in time.


1. Bill Henson cited by Ashley Crawford in Henson Seen in a New Light, The Age, Melbourne, Thursday 6 February 2014, p.15
2. Amor was a student at the National Gallery School from 1966 to 1968
3. Lindsay, R., Rick Amor: Standing in the Shadows, McClelland Gallery+Sculpture Park, Langwarrin, 2005, pp.51, 75


Catalano, G., Detachment allows art of great emotional power, The Age, Melbourne, 18 May 1990
Catalano, G., The Solitary Watcher: Rick Amor and his Art, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 2001
Corrigan, P.; Hansen, D.; Miller, A.; Short, L., Rick Amor: A Single Mind, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, 2008
Fry, G., Rick Amor, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2010
Grishin, S., 50 Most Collectible Artists, Australian Art Collector, Issue 19, 2002
Heathcote, C., Visual Images evoke Thought, The Age, Melbourne, 6 May 1992
Klepac, L., Rick Amor-Pages from the Sketchbooks, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2013
Lindsay, R., Rick Amor: Standing in the Shadows, McClelland Gallery+Sculpture Park, Langwarrin, 2005
McDonald, J., Self-reflection: when artists look into the mirror, The Australian Financial Review, 5 August 2004
Nelson, R., Dark and Classic Painter, The Age, Melbourne, 13 September 1995
Nelson, R., Freely Confined a Vigorous World, The Age, Melbourne, 19 June 1996
Rooney, R., Inside the Secret City, The Weekend Australian, 8 October 1994
Wallace-Crabbe, C., Painting in a Dangerous Area, Art Monthly, November 1995


Associate Professor Ken Wach
Dip. Art; T.T.T.C.; Fellowship RMIT; MA; PhD.
Former Principal Research Fellow and Head of the School of Creative Arts
The University of Melbourne

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