THE TENT: a mini essay

Pictures, paintings and art: in contemporary practice these often do not overlap. Rick Amor is one of Australia’s premier painters of pictures: a traditional skills-based realist, with expressionist and surrealist tendencies.

His exhibition of recent work includes the memorable painting “The Tent”. An elephant stands to one side of a big top, which is not in cheerful circus livery but white like a shroud. Leavening the grey monotone are dull shades of blue and streaks of terracotta.

Two things struck me. The white tent is a tour de force of tonal painting, deftly evoking volume, shadow areas and concavities, warmed by hints of pink. It’s a work of painterly pleasures.

Then there is the scale. This is a medium-sized painting, 65.5cm x 81cm, but it depicts a looming sky, a proverbially big animal, a monumental tent structure, across a large expanse of mud (we are looking up from a low angle, close to the ground). We intuit the paradox — inherently expansive elements condensed into a compact format — which creates the picture’s tension.

This is an unfashionable, deeply conservative painting; that is to say it conserves a kind of picture making that would be familiar to any audience since the Romantic artists of 200 years ago. It’s the kind of image that requires no theory to grasp or appreciate.

The picture is elegiac but not nostalgic. It is resolutely free of irony; there are no visual winks or nudges. The vapourous sky, lone elephant, chalk-white tent and churned earth impart a bleak, unsentimental tone. The scene is mysterious — Where is everyone? Is the season over? Is apocalypse now? Everything is still and silent, on the brink.

“The Tent” has gotten under my skin, like a tune, or tattoo.


Rick Amor is at Niagara Galleries until September 22 2018

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