Josephine Rowe on Rick Amor
‘I think it’s becoming of an artist to be honest about themselves,’ Rick Amor tells me after we’ve spoken for an hour or so, across the scarred surface of a large worktable in his home studio in Alphington, Melbourne.
Propped against an easel is a shaving mirror that I recognise from one of his numerous self portraits—I’ve never been able to work out whether they could be called ‘unforgiving’, or just the opposite; unflinching, ultimately accepting—but the honesty is unmistakable.
Rick’s studio is surprisingly modest for an artist who has been working prolifically for over four decades. The walls and door frames of the two adjoining rooms are a collage of maps, postcards, poems, sketches, and photographs—of old friends, of children and grandchildren, of himself as a younger, scruffier man with a black leather jacket and acoustic guitar. Two of his father’s paintings hang amidst prints of admired works by Titian, Morandi, and de Chirico. Another photograph shows his mother as a young woman, standing on a beach in a swimsuit, her eyes shaded by a straw sombrero.
A khaki shirt hangs in one corner, ‘Australian Official Artist’ emblazoned on the sleeve: Rick’s uniform for East Timor in 1999. He recalls the uncompleted cathedral in Suai, bloodstains on the outer walls where women had been shot down while trying to scramble up the scaffolding. “And you’d come across burnt patches in the earth,” he tells me. “There’d be nothing left but teeth. Bloody awful.”
He came to these atrocities with restraint, depicting the stillness of their aftermath, and the everyday details in the lives of the peacekeepers. A graduate of the National Gallery School and a student of John Brack—whose own paintings drew largely on the human condition—Rick adopted Brack’s philosophy that an artist’s subject matter could typically be found within a mile of their front door.
A resounding sense of desolation and impending danger permeate his land, sea and streetscapes — there is always an ill wind rising, an abandoned or burning car beneath an expressway, a shadowy streak fleeing some invisible threat.
Outside of his portraits—whose subjects include Peter Carey, Dorothy Porter, Sir Daryl Lindsay—the figures in Rick Amor’s paintings are typically faceless and unknowable, engulfed by the landscape even when they are the focus of the work, diminutive against hulking ruins of ships and monolithic structures.
“You know when you have a dream and you’re in some familiar place, but it’s not quite the same?” Rick asks. “That’s what they’re like.”