RICK AMOR and Modern Mythologies

“Mythmaking in the Modern Age” an excerpt from Levelling Time: The Figurative Painting of Rick Amor, Eolo Paul Bottaro and Jeffrey Smart, a Masters Thesis by Marguerite Brown, 2012.

The presence of mythological threads are  veiled in Rick Amor’s work, yet exist as a recurrent subtext nonetheless. Amor’s images generally avoid a definitive interpretation, he paints scenes more akin to a suspended moment before or after some event, rather than a narrative in the true sense of the term where objects and figures depicted within the illusionistic space of the picture plane, can be understood as clearly enacting a story. If Bottaro’s work shows us the climax of the tale, Amor sets the ominous scene for it. In describing his ongoing series of paintings of the beach at Frankston, Victoria where Amor was raised and spent his childhood, he says “The sky is always lowering into the sea, the beach is deserted, and something awful has happened or is about to happen.”[1] This avoidance of a clear event, and thus definitive interpretation, engages the imagination of the viewer in an open ended manner.

Rick Amor, Burning Cafe, 2011, oil on linen, 74 x 100 cm. Courtesy the Artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne.

Rick Amor, Burning Cafe (2011) oil on linen, 74 x 100 cm. Courtesy the Artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne.

David Hansen notes that Amor’s stories lack the archetypal structure of a myth, yet he too intuits the mythic proportions of the events alluded to in Amor’s artwork, when he writes:

“There is a sense that something is about to be revealed: the Kraken under the waves, the bride under the veil… the ‘minor business’ of watching and walking becomes a critical task, an [sic] heroic quest.”[2]

If a myths’ greater meaning occurs outside of its own story, Amor’s paintings act in a similar way, successfully evoking life’s great pursuits and fears, the exact nature of which occurs in the mind of the viewer without a pre-determined conclusion. However beyond this analogous reading, the presence of mythological themes express a central concern in Amor’s work, namely “the passing of time and the vanity of human wishes.”[3]

Amor’s painting Ithaca (2011, fig. 16) touches on both. The artist has revisited this subject in multiple works, including an oil study Ithaca (2010) similar to the 2011 painting, and a small watercolour study and a lithograph from 2010, both titled Ithaca  but containing a different image purely centred on architectural ruins.[4] In the smaller oil Ithaca (2010) the scene is virtually identical to its 2011 counterpart, however it has a gloomier atmosphere, with a muted palette of greys and browns. The presence of a car approaching a lone figure who appears to be walking towards it, holding some kind of bag, or object, contains Amor’s typical narrative ambiguity, and contributes to the shady (both visual and thematic) mood of the painting. By contrast in Ithaca (2011) which was exhibited at Amor’s 2011 exhibition at Niagara Galleries, the scene is bathed in pearlescent hues of light pink, silver and gold. An odd truncated twisted column, or perhaps some kind of alter of long past religious significance, seems to swell seamlessly from the natural forms of tree roots or rocky earth below. It is cast in a particularly golden hue, and housed within an angular architectural structure. This fragmentary ruin contains echoes of the golden age of classical antiquity, and in combination with the title of the painting Ithaca, gives a mythic dimension to the work.

Rick Amor, Ithaca, 2011, oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm. Courtesy the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne.

Rick Amor, Ithaca (2011) oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm. Courtesy the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne.

A consistent theme in Amor’s work is the passing of civilisations, perhaps a metaphor for the transient nature of our own existence. In Ithaca he draws our attention to the faded glory of ancient cultures which birthed classical mythology. What was once perhaps a mighty temple, now appears a ramshackle fragment of the past, still containing hints of the authority it once inspired. It is a “vision of fallen splendour … the ruined dreams of that once great empire the-West.”[5] Yet the significance Ithaca holds as the fabled home that Odysseus spent ten years trying to return to in Homer’s Odyssey, is also woven into the narrative clues the painting contains. It is not only cued by the title of the painting and the classically inspired architecture, the sea-side location also evokes the Homeric hero’s island home, and sea-faring journey. Sabastian Smee refers to Amor’s repertoire of archetypal settings and figures, and surely this painting touches on one the most important archetypal constructs, that of a home, spiritual and physical, and the long journey to find it.[6]

Homer’s Ithaca is the homeland longed for by Odysseus, but when he finally returns after years of fraught journey he finds it a breached and contested site. A certain tension also exists in Amor’s uneasy memories of his childhood home. For many years Amor has painted memories and images that have arisen from his childhood spent near the beach at Frankston, creating a significant body of work in response. He writes of this influence:

“My early life was anxious with family tensions … The memory of unease and anxiety just comes to the surface, I dream about my childhood in the dark tonality of my paintings.”[7]

The seaside location depicted in Ithaca along with the inclusion of the distinctive pine trees that frequently appear in Amor’s Frankston paintings, clearly reference the artist’s childhood home turf. In Amor’s work, home, in the sense of the local area where he grew up, not just the house in which he lived, is represented as an unsettled physical and metaphysical space. This parallels the reality of the homeland that Odysseus encounters upon his eventual return to Ithaca, rather than the idealised destination of his epic journey. Interestingly Frankston has its own Ithaca Street which is not far from the Long Island location of the artist’s childhood home, perhaps reinforcing this connection to both the mythical and physical homecoming in Amor’s work, where one rarely finds what they expect.

Turning their backs on this glorious architectural fragment of the past, two small figures, one barely perceptible, walk away with heads downcast into the trees. These figures, though such minor visual elements in the painting, create a human relationship with the structure that render it an empty vestige, no place of sanctuary or meaning in today’s modern world. Fry notes Amor’s belief that “future generations may have a difficult time deciphering the meaning of our particular existence.”[8] It is this search for meaning, and a lament that society is found to be lacking, that seems to permeate Amor’s paintings. Instead of a mythical subject enacted by figures as seen in Bottaro’s Pactolus, it is a mythologised space that Amor creates within the picture plane, where the artist fuses the personal memory with concepts of larger archetypal significance. It is this mythic dimension which lends these works their resonance, and allows Amor’s message to be intuitively comprehended.

[1] Fry, 2008, p. 130

[2] Hansen, 2008, p. 104

[3] Fry, 2008, p. 166

[5] Heathcote, 2000, p. 28

[7] Fry, 2008, p. 130

[8] Fry, 2008, p. 123

© Marguerite Brown 2012



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