WORLD OF ARTIFICE
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