One of my favourite collections the Library holds is a group of oil paintings and watercolours donated by Melbourne artist Rick Amor​. I first saw these in the 2010 exhibition ‘I cover the Waterfront’, held at the State Library. The paintings show scenes around Port Phillip Bay and I liked them immediately and I wondered why.

Princes PierH2009.82/23

Initially I thought I’d research the works. I’d look in the many publications on Amor, tracking the painting’s origins and inspirations. I’d search the Library’s databases for articles describing the works- I might even find an ‘Artist statement’- and eventually I would find the reason why I liked these so much. But I already liked the pictures without knowing their provenance and background or reason for being. So I decided to look only at the pictures- resisting the temptation to swipe or scroll or open another tab.

It’s not the literal information the paintings provide that I am interested in. I don’t like them because they’re of Melbourne. I’m not that into bridges and piers and murky water- as in Princes Pier (above), but I like the colours, the way they describe the wood, and the light on the choppy water, the brush strokes loose but accurate. If I remembered this scene, this is how it would look.

Lorimer Street, Port MelbourneH2009.82/15

Do I like Lorimer Street, Port Melbourne because of the light or is it the sombre mood? Do I like the picture because I feel like I’m there- on that spot, on a wet ground, looking across an industrial wasteland? I looked at some other Amor pictures and came back to this one and now I think it’s the puddle in the foreground- its amorphous shape, the colour and reflection; it jumps out of the dull background.

Rainy day, lower Yarra RiverH2009.82/12

I stared at Rainy day, lower Yarra River and, similarly, I can imagine being there, at that moment. I think it’s those two grey brushes of water in the foreground. That’s how I imagine the water would look if I stood there; that colour, just the top of a small crest; the dashes give the water movement. I looked at other images and eventually came back to this one and I noticed that those two brush strokes also give the picture scale- they highlight how large the construction is- and they give me- the viewer- a place in the landscape.

Down river; H2009.82/21

In Down river, the dark swell behind the wooden legs anchors the picture; just a few strokes makes it real; I can feel the drift. I looked longer and wondered, is it those dark dashes- or is it the white dashes beneath the swell which are the true stars of the picture, which bring depth to the movement?

Impounded vessel, Port of Melbourne;  H2009.82/7

It was the rope in Impounded vessel, Port of Melbourne which caught my eye. The angle and colour captures the rope’s weight and fall. The decay on the hull seems just right, through seemingly minimal use of paint, but I don’t know about techniques. 

Old jetty, YarravilleH2009.82/5

I like Old jetty, Yarraville because of the olives of land and water, the colour merging the shapes- it reminds me of the Edvard Munch painting, Melancholy. The overgrown pier has a forlorn look about it; I imagine those pylons would be rotting. 

Under the Bolte Bridge I ; H2009.82/34

Do I like Under the Bolte Bridge I because of the accuracy of the ordinary details? Such as the water mark on the pylon on the left, and the delicate reflection playing beneath? Or is it the familiarity of the faded graffiti and the curve of the tyre mark​? And the tone of that track on the right is precisely how I imagine it. The scene is unremarkable, one easy to witness, so why is it so interesting?

Old terminal, YarravilleH2009.82/8

In Old terminal, Yarraville, the conveyors angle toward the silo, the centre of the picture, which made me think me it could be the composition which attracts my eye. The sky is empty and light but the middle portion is busy; space is disjointed as the foreground expands before us. We are standing far back enough not to be overwhelmed by the busyness; the muted colours quietens the scene- we are observers of the past.

I think there are many reasons why I like Amor’s paintings- the scenes are familiar, the colours, the composition and the execution makes the scene believable. But I think I like them because Amor leaves room for the viewer; he doesn’t beat your brow with a heavy handed narrative; he leaves a space for you to stand.

Rick Amor is represented in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait  Gallery, and numerous State and Regional Galleries and University collections throughout Australia. He lives and works in Melbourne.

All the images used in this blog are in copyright. You can see those and many more online from the Library’s catalogue.

Written by Paul Dee, Senior Librarian Victorian and Australian Collections | Collection Development & Description

This article has 8 comments

  1. Hello Paul
    I could not resist the invitation to explore Rick Amor’s paintings seen through your eyes.
    I like them so much because I know that terrain very well and agree that the paintings absolutely capture the mood, the light.
    He often painted those parts of the Port that are decaying, breaking down – also a favourite subject of mine.
    Wonderful to know that I can revisit these paintings at any time through the Library catalogue.
    Thanks for the wander around the River Port.

  2. Hi Paul, Did you know Rick Amour recalls being a student in the National Gallery School of Art when it was situated in Swinburn Hall, now our Library Conservation Lab. Its a nice connection to the artist to have.

  3. I’ve just looked at this and thought today was a good day to view them as the same weather appears to be happening in my area of Melbourne. I’ve always loved seascapes and this seems to capture the mood of the sea beautifully. Thank you for posting.

  4. I agree with Linda, today is a cold, miserable day in Melbourne. I was surprised and really pleased that I could see these fantastic Rick Amor works. Looking at artworks on line is not my usual choice, but it may still be weeks – months before we can wander into a gallery. The Covid pandemic has changed our lives and it is so important that we have artists interested in depicting Melbourne . Thank you SLV this collection is great!

  5. So good to see these works by Rick in the collection. Such a great painter of our shorelines. Lovely canvases.

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