WORLD OF AR­TI­FICE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Christopher Allen

Rick Amor: From Study to Paint­ing Castle­maine Art Gallery and His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum, to July 28 CASTLE­MAINE Art Gallery and His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum is yet an­other of the re­mark­able net­work of re­gional gal­leries in Vic­to­ria that have fea­tured re­cently in th­ese pages.

It was founded in 1913 — the gallery cel­e­brates its cen­te­nary in Oc­to­ber — and oc­cu­pies a hand­some art deco build­ing hold­ing some out­stand­ing pic­tures from both the 19th and 20th cen­turies. Peter Perry, its di­rec­tor, also has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the long­est-serv­ing di­rec­tor of a pub­lic gallery in Aus­tralia, hav­ing been first ap­pointed as a young man in 1975; dur­ing his ten­ure he has over­seen an el­e­gant ex­ten­sion of the build­ing and has built the fine col­lec­tion while seem­ingly avoid­ing the many fads of the past few decades.

The present ex­hi­bi­tion is not a full sur­vey of the work of Rick Amor, but some­thing al­most equally valu­able, a demon­stra­tion of how a paint­ing is pro­duced, for which the artist has been will­ing to lend some of his sketch­books, and to jux­ta­pose draw­ings, wa­ter­colours and stud­ies with fin­ished paint­ings. We are al­lowed to look over Amor’s shoul­der, in ef­fect, and watch him as he de­vel­ops an artis­tic idea: for artis­tic ideas are not sim­ply dis­cov­ered fully formed but made, con­structed or, in the term used in clas­si­cal art the­ory, in­vented by the artist.

The con­cept of in­ven­tio, in Latin, orig­i­nally be­longed to the the­ory of rhetoric and de­noted the first stage in the writ­ing of a speech, in which the or­a­tor de­vises the ba­sis or grounds of his ar­gu­ment; then comes dis­po­si­tio or com­po­si­tion, which is the work­ing out of the steps in the ar­gu­ment; and fi­nally elo­cu­tio, its ac­tual ex­pres­sion in words. The par­a­digm was adopted by the early the­o­rists of paint­ing and adapted in var­i­ous ways to ac­count for the suc­ces­sive stages of de­vel­op­ing the idea of a paint­ing, con­struct­ing its com­po­si­tion and real­is­ing it in draw­ing and colour.

Even in a his­tory paint­ing, it was clear in­ven­tion was not sim­ply a mat­ter of pick­ing an in­ter­est­ing story: it was far more the se­lec­tion of the mo­ment, the con­cep­tion of point of view and the choice of the re­la­tions be­tween fig­ures in the story that would turn a sig­nif­i­cant story into a good pic­ture. The the­ory was not orig­i­nally ap­plied to land­scape be­cause the genre was not the­o­rised at all be­fore the end of the 17th cen­tury. But the same prin­ci­ple was ob­served in prac­tice: a land­scape was not a copy of a given spot but a con­struc­tion based on ob­served ele­ments re­assem­bled to make a sat­is­fy­ing com­po­si­tion.

In Amor’s case, we can see this prin­ci­ple in its sim­plest form in a se­ries of vari­a­tions on an old wooden sea wall. There is a small painted study, whose dates (1998-2004) in­di­cate an idea con­sid­ered, set aside and then re­vis­ited years later. In this ini­tial ver­sion, the found mo­tif has been painted in a di­ag­o­nal com­po­si­tion, and a small fig­ure on the right serves to con­trib­ute a nar­ra­tive and dra­matic el­e­ment. The next work in the se­ries is a large char­coal draw­ing in which the sea­wall, orig­i­nally a pic­turesque mo­tif lead­ing the eye into the dis­tance, is now reused to form a dra­matic fore­ground, par­al­lel to the pic­ture plane, and most of the artist’s ef­fort is de­voted to the con­struc­tion of a dark and stormy skyscape.

A smaller sketch in pen is a rapid re­think­ing of the com­po­si­tion of the sky, too com­plex in the char­coal study, into a broader asym­met­ri­cal con­fig­u­ra­tion with a mass of dark­ness and a break of light on the hori­zon on the right. And this is the com­po­si­tion adopted in the fi­nal painted ver­sion, which adds depth of colour and tone to evoke a threat­en­ing, stormy seascape be­yond the fore­ground mo­tif and the still il­lu­mi­nated beach.

An even more com­plex ex­am­ple of how a

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