Artist Profile: Rick Amor, by Trent Walter, Australian Art Review
Rick Amor is a painter not interested in creating mythologies around the role or process of an artist. Sitting in his studio among his printmaking paraphernalia, Amor talks candidly about his career and experiences as a painter and his opinions of contemporary art and politics. “I’ve been very lucky in my life that since the age of twenty-four I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do,” Amor says.
On the influence of his teacher, John Brack, Amor recalls, “He gave us a sense of vocation as an artist.” Whereas now, Amor senses, “people choose to become artists not out of a sense of vocation but just because [they think] ‘I’ll be an artist’”. While inferring that technology has partly brought about this change, Amor is quick to point out its perceived shortcomings: “When a machine comes between the eye and the hand, it looks mechanical to me no matter how good the artist is.” When David Hockney’s iPad drawings are mentioned, he comments astutely, “He tries it all [faxes, photography etc], but then ends up painting.’’ He continues, “The old methods of making art are great and they work.”
Following Brack’s advice, Amor “always looked at artists who were outside the official line”. Among his discoveries were William Roberts, Ceri Richards, Stanley Spencer and Edwin Dickinson. “Oddball people,” Amor says. Though not claiming to be an artist operating on the margins, he feels he is “outside curatorially”. Wary of institutional support for contemporary art, Amor states that “Tucker and Nolan weren’t bought by the state galleries until well into their careers”. He does concede, however, “My generation is old — now there is a new generation that I don’t understand.”
On the process of painting, Amor explains, “It’s very hard to sit down and say ‘I’m going to paint a work of genius today.’ It doesn’t happen like that — subject matter comes to you unpredictably …” Referring to his process as “plodding”, Amor explains how drawings in his sketchbook will be followed by a drawing, then a watercolour, gouache or print and finally by a half-size painting. “Sometimes it won’t get past the half-sized version.” Brack’s advice surfaces again, “You only show your best work.” So there must be many pictures the public doesn’t see? “I’ve got stores full of them,” he replies.
Interspersed with his direct answers to my questions, Amor’s dry humour comes in flashes. Sometimes it is not so much the words he uses, but their tone and delivery. “How sweet it is!” he says in reference to Patrick McCaughey’s positive review of Amor’s Heide survey show A Single Mindafter McCaughey had savaged his first one-man show. Similar sentiments could be made about Amor’s paintings, which often take ordinary, urban locations as their subject that the artist then imbues with a unique and extraordinary atmosphere.
Amor doesn’t shy away from a direct retelling of events either. Of registering for service during Vietnam he says, “I registered, stupidly. In retrospect I see what a fool I was.” And of the time he spent involved with the trade unions: “In the 1970s, I was a bit lost as an artist.” So what was the turning point? “It was only when I was thirty–three/thirty–four that I was able to tap into memories of childhood and by that stage I was painting landscape with Andrew Southall and those two things together seemed to unlock something in me …” Amor met gallery director Bill Nutall around the same time and he has exhibited with Niagara Galleries ever since. In 2008, they celebrated twenty-five years together. “Continuity is very important to me,” Amor says.
Indeed, time is of great importance to the artist. His first major prize was the last National Gallery of Victoria travelling scholarship in 1968 when he was twenty. Amor recalls, “It wasn’t enough money to go overseas so I stayed here and painted … for two years I was a full-time painter when I was young and it was terrific — I worked very hard.” A four-month residency at the VACB Green Street studio in New York in 1995 also yielded great results: “It’s long enough to get to know the place but not long enough to start to feel at home.”
For Amor, “Most art is about death and the inevitability of decay … that’s the only thing worth painting about I think.” Indeed, one senses that for Amor, a life of painting is the only life worth living. For an artist who claims “I only got smart at 40”, the focus has always been on the long game. When asked about politics, he answers strongly: “I couldn’t give a damn about politics — I hate them all.” Thinking beyond our own time, he says with assurance: “What’s left in the end is culture, not politics.”