WE ARE AL­LOWED TO LOOK OVER AMOR’S SHOUL­DER, IN EF­FECT, AND WATCH HIM AS HE DE­VEL­OPS AN ARTIS­TIC IDEA

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

found mo­tif is mod­i­fied in the process of mak­ing a pic­ture can be fol­lowed in the next se­quence of works. In the first, the artist has iden­ti­fied a sub­ject in which he sees a sym­bolic po­ten­tial, the un­fin­ished Bolte bridge, of which he ex­e­cutes a fine and even metic­u­lous wa­ter­colour study on a large scale (1998). The strik­ing thing is how care­fully he notes ev­ery de­tail of the bridge as it ac­tu­ally ap­pears, be­fore later re­turn­ing to the sub­ject and pro­ceed­ing to strip away what is inessen­tial to his pur­pose in a se­ries of fur­ther stud­ies.

The artist can­not al­ways know ex­actly what that pur­pose may be, and there­fore needs to record ev­ery­thing sig­nif­i­cant about a real mo­tif, nat­u­ral or man-made, like a botanist or en­to­mol­o­gist col­lect­ing a spec­i­men in the field. The process of de­cid­ing what to dis­card or mod­ify be­gins, in this case, seven years later with a quick pen sketch (2005), in which we al­ready see that the artist’s in­ten­tion is to trans­form the un­fin­ished bridge into a ruin. In a sub­se­quent large-scale char­coal draw­ing (2006), the scaf­fold­ing that sur­rounded the end of the bridge is re­placed by the ragged shape of crum­bling re­in­forced con­crete, while the struc­tures in the fore­ground are re­duced to skele­tons.

The dock and har­bour on the right are re­placed with a swampy plain that sig­ni­fies, in Amor’s pic­to­rial world, a waste­land; in the dis­tance, an un­ex­plained plume of smoke bal­ances the com­po­si­tion and con­trib­utes an ad­di­tional el­e­ment of men­ace. In the fi­nal paint­ing, Coast (2006), the trans­la­tion into oil paint­ing em­pha­sises the un­nat­u­ral yel­low lu­mi­nos­ity of the sky against the dark sil­hou­ette of the ru­ined struc­ture, em­pha­sised by clear­ing away some of the re­main­ing build­ings on the lower left.

A sim­i­lar work­ing process is ev­i­dent be­tween the small gouache study of Brook­lyn Bridge (1996) and the large oil paint­ing Burn­ing car (1997), in which the orig­i­nal view is an­i­mated by the sin­is­ter sub­ject of the ti­tle, which also sup­plies a bright and hot high­light and con­trasts with the gen­tle warmth of the sun­set sky, and a lit­tle fig­ure stand­ing and watch­ing on the right adds a fur­ther note of dis­quiet. Again, we can see how two scrupu­lously ob­served stud­ies of real sites, Con­struc­tion, Footscray (1998) and Western Sub­urbs (1998), pre­cede a quick pen sketch that leads to the full-scale oil paint­ing Study for Pe­riph­eral Land­scape (1998), in which so much of the orig­i­nal in­for­ma­tion is pared back in the quest for the es­sen­tial and the ex­pres­sive.

Par­tic­u­larly strik­ing in this whole process of gath­er­ing and dis­card­ing is the role of dif­fer­ent me­dia. Time and again, it is wa­ter­colour that is em­ployed in the orig­i­nal no­ta­tion of a site: it is a highly por­ta­ble medium, far more con­ve­nient for plein-air work than oils, and ca­pa­ble in ex­pert hands of rapidly set­ting down a wealth of in­for­ma­tion. At the same time, aes­thet­i­cally speak­ing, this medium, in which the pig­ment is ab­sorbed by the pa­per, has a ten­dency to flat­ness that is at once graph­i­cally ef­fec­tive and in a cer­tain sense quite ab­stract, and there is a par­tic­u­lar plea­sure in the way that sim­ple stains of dif­fer­ent tones con­vince us that tex­ture, form and depth are be­ing evoked.

Ink draw­ing, in con­trast, is used not for ren­der­ing ap­pear­ances, but turn­ing back into one’s own mind and think­ing out com­po­si­tio- nal ideas; it is, as it was for baroque painters, the pure medium of in­ven­tion. And char­coal is em­ployed to flesh out the ideas first sketched in ink, to work up the large shapes and the tonal struc­tures of what will be­come a paint­ing. The whole process, need­less to say, is far re­moved from the cliche of the painter at­tack­ing a white can­vas in an un­premed­i­tated and fever­ish fit of cre­ativ­ity.

Even fur­ther from such pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tions is Amor’s use of grids to de­ter­mine the most ef­fec­tive place­ment of ele­ments within his com­po­si­tions. Some­times artists are re­luc­tant to show such draw­ings, whether be­cause they are loath to re­veal the se­crets of the trade or are anx­ious about ap­pear­ing to lack spon­tane­ity. But here sev­eral works al­low us to pon­der the artist’s think­ing and in­ten­tions. One is a char­coal study of a clump of trees; the draw­ing area is roughly 3:4 in pro­por­tions, and is di­vided into sixths both ver­ti­cally and hor­i­zon­tally. Di­ag­o­nals are drawn through the whole com­po­si­tion, and sub­sidiary di­ag­o­nals in the right-hand half of the com­po­si­tion, while an­other di­ag­o­nal line runs from the bot­tom mid­point to the first sixth at the top. It is this geo­met­ric pat­tern and th­ese lines that help him make sense of what would oth­er­wise be an un­ruly clump of trees.

A sim­pler case to un­der­stand is that of Em­pire of the Sea (1999), which be­gins with a care­ful wa­ter­colour study of an enor­mous buoy — the scale is given by the 44 gal­lon drum next to it rest­ing on a jetty. The ob­ject sits to the left of cen­tre on the rec­tan­gu­lar sheet of the wa­ter­colour pa­per, but in the fi­nal com­po­si­tion it is to oc­cupy a square can­vas. Ac­cord­ingly, a large char­coal study, in square for­mat, is grid­ded into six squares ver­ti­cally and an equal num­ber hor­i­zon­tally. The cen­tral axis of the buoy cor­re­sponds to the di­ag­o­nal of the square, while its up­per right bound­ary is on the sec­ondary di­ag­o­nal from the lower right cor­ner to the mid­dle of the top line.

Par­tic­u­larly re­fined is the use of geom­e­try in the beau­ti­ful wa­ter­colour study for The Silent River (2001), in which the height of the com­po­si­tion is di­vided into eighths. Fine pen­cil lines have been drawn from the bot­tom right cor­ner to the third, fourth and fifth lines on the left, all sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­vals be­cause the fourth rep­re­sents the mid­point of the height of the com­po­si­tion, whereas 3:8 and 5:8 rep­re­sent ap­prox­i­mately the di­vi­sion of the height by the golden sec­tion (1:1.618); it is thus on the line from the cor­ner to the golden sec­tion that the half-sunken car­cass of an old boat is sit­u­ated.

Such cal­cu­la­tions may seem ar­cane to the unini­ti­ated, but they are in re­al­ity an an­cient part of the some­times un­spo­ken knowl­edge of painters, the first con­scious and in­creas­ingly in­tu­itive un­der­stand­ing of the in­vis­i­ble lines of force within the com­po­si­tional ma­trix, as im­por­tant for the artist as it is for the vi­o­lin­ist to know where to place his fin­gers on the un­fret­ted neck of his in­stru­ment. And they are an es­sen­tial part of the trans­for­ma­tion of the world in the process of in­ven­tion, or of what for the past two cen­turies we have tended to call imag­i­na­tion.

In­deed this ex­hi­bi­tion, with both its sketches from life and its ar­ti­fi­cial com­po­si­tions, could serve to il­lus­trate the con­tin­uum be­tween the pre-ro­man­tic sense of the term imag­i­na­tion, as the abil­ity of the mind to rep­re­sent phe­nom­ena to it­self, and the ro­man­tic sense, in which that process of rep­re­sen­ta­tion en­tails a pro­found trans­for­ma­tion. And it re­minds us that the world re­mains a vi­tal source of in­spi­ra­tion for the artist, even if it must also be rein­vented and im­bued with po­etic mean­ing.

Western Sub­urbs

From far left, Amor’s Bolte Bridge Un­der Con­struc­tion, South Side of the

Yarra (1998); char­coal work Coast (2006); and Coast, an oil on can­vas from the same year

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