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Since the early 1960s, Rick Amor has been mining his personal memories of urban settings, some recalled from his early childhood and others drawn from contemporary experiences, to bring us striking scenes. They emit both theatrical resonance and silence; they suggest dreamy movement yet embody monumental stillness. An eminent painter, printmaker and sculptor, Amor is in all of these mtiers a Master scenographer, producing dramatic visions that are akin to stills from an Orson Welles film noir set. This sense of stillness, mystery and foreboding drama begins to appear early in the artists career and becomes central to his oeuvre as he develops and fine tunes his personal imagery. Similar to the Piazzas of Giorgio De Chirico (1888-1978), Amors images are of a fabricated world, a film or theatrical set, populated with meticulously arranged props completing a fictitious scene. With Amor however, one cannot help but feel a strange sense of familiarity, an uncanny sense of the recognisable. Not just personal manifestations of an improbable dream, his paintings touch on our collective memory, on something already lived, on dj vu.

An alumnus of the National Gallery Art School, Amor was initially influenced by the tutelage of John Brack (1920-1999). As the years progressed however, marked by brief flirtations with Cubism and Pop Art of a Lgeresque flavour, Amor was increasingly attracted to the palette and sombre tones of the Danish turn-of-the-century artist, Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916).1 However, Amor doesnt define his colour spectrum as a choice: I worry about it a bit, but I think that the palette you have is the one you are given, and you have to live with that I dream about my childhood in the dark tonality of my paintings.2 These muted, but often warm and earthy tones are key to some of the artists most intriguing interior scenes of museums.

In the 60s, the National Gallery School was located in the same building as the National Gallery, the Museum and the State Library: it was a one-stop cultural sanctuary. On his daily trips to the institution, from 1966 to 1968, Amor familiarised himself with the Museums collection. Gary Catalano suggests that Amor is nostalgic for the Melbourne of his teens and that he draws on the museums contents because they represent the unchanging Melbourne in the face of otherwise rapid development.3

At the time when the artist was producing his first museum inspired interiors, he was awarded the Victorian Arts and Crafts Board Studio Residency in London. The four months in the English capital provided the painter with enduring sources for new motifs, ideas and compositions. The British Museum, a building painted on at least two occasions by Hammershoi (Fuglsang Kunstmuseum, Denmark) became fertile ground for Amor. Several works take us within the cavernous confines of the institution, to a subterranean repository of ancient treasures that speak of bygone eras.

In Across History 2000, we are invited into this dark, evocative and seductive world. It is a space that conjures a strange sense of claustrophobia; an environment designed to conserve and protect, a primordial, basic human instinct that makes us at ease in this otherwise gloomy interior. The marble equine sculpture on the right recalls a 350 BC fragment of a monumental quadriga chariot-group that once crowned the summit at the magnificent Mausoleum of Halicarnassus one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This softly carved, delicately fragile fragment leads our eyes to an even grander, earlier carving of an Egyptian deity, placed dutifully at the golden section of the composition. It is framed by rectangular cornice, a motif that is to reappear in 2004 as the central element in Doorway possibly one of Amors darkest images. Our eyes are subsequently drawn to the silhouettes that transit in and out of this grotto, and towards the opening to the Great Court of the British Museum, our way out.

However magnificently muted the artists palette is, so too are the figures that populate the present work. The speechless character of the figures and sculptures is further underscored by the fact that they have all been devoid of any facial features. The ravages of time have deprived the Greek horse of its noble visage, the Egyptian carving is positioned with its back to us, and we cannot make out the faces of the two culture vultures moving in and out of the room.

Amors visions of museum interiors are amid his most haunting and beautiful images. In reviewing the artists 2008 retrospective at Heide Museum of Modern Art, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sebastian Smee labelled these as Amors very best.4 They certainly are amongst his most sublime and alluring of works which employ several of his more developed artistic devices, cementing his place as the veritable Master of Silence.


1. Fry, G., Rick Amor, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2008, p.85

2. Ibid., p.130

3. Catalano, G., The Solitary Watcher: Rick Amor and his Art, The Meigunyah Press, Melbourne, 2001, p.149

4. Smee, S., Touching the Void, The Weekend Australian, 12-13 April 2008, pp.18-19

Staff Writer

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