Rick Amor

While Rick Amor is best known for his evocative paintings, printmaking is a vital part of his practice. In Issue 39, 2017, Bridget Macleod chatted to Amor about his etchings and lithographs.

Do you see your printmaking as separate from your painting practice or as an important part of it?
It’s very much a part of what I do. I describe myself as a painter who prints. I don’t regard myself as a printmaker as such, I’m an amateur printmaker because my knowledge of technique is very basic, and I don’t really use complicated technique when I am etching, I just draw and bite. I don’t use aquatint, I don’t use sugar lift or any of those sorts of things, it’s just straight etching. With lithographs I just draw on the stone and hand the stone to the printer. It’s all pretty simple.

You’re not interested in learning any of those techniques?
No I’m not. It suits me just to draw and print. I like the business of scraping out and biting and burnishing, that sort of thing. Which is how I was taught at art school. Murray Walker taught me etching in the 60s and that was his method – you really work the plate. You didn’t just draw a line and scribble and print it, you get into the process of making the etching.

Do you plan a print out before you begin?
I plan everything and always begin with a carefully worked-out image. Often the etching will be a version of a painting or a painting will be a version of an etching. It goes back and forth. It’s a fluid process. I will work on paper and sketch out the composition, and then transfer it to the plate and work on it, because the plate takes over.

Will you make many changes to the plate after the first proof?
Absolutely, it goes on and on. You can have 20, 25 proofs sometimes, other times you might have one. It just depends on how it works out.

What led you to your preference for etchings and lithographs?
I was taught etching at art school, then I saw Manakata prints at Crossley Gallery in Melbourne in the mid 1960s, and I started doing woodcuts. I only did woodcuts until about 1988, when I was asked to do an etching for a folio. I had to learn etching again so I called in to Phillip Institute of Technology where Danny Moynihan showed me the rudiments and I got hooked again. I bought a press so I can work and print at home and now someone else editions them for me.

What role does the printer have?
I proof everything up to the BAT (the bon á tirer stage) and then I hand it over to the printer. I write instructions on a proof saying what I want – where to wipe and where to leave tone – that sort of thing. But generally I like an image to be ready to be printed without too much messing around on the plate for the printer.

Have you tried any printing techniques that don’t work for you?
I don’t like silkscreen. It lacks the artist’s hand, and photo etching is a bit of a cop out – if you’re doing an etching draw for Christ’s sake!

Do you draw as well?
Yes, I’ve got tons of sketchbooks.

What’s the benefit of the print over drawing?
They have their own qualities. A print is editioned so you can sell more of them and a drawing is a one-off. Drawing feeds into the etching, etching feeds into the drawing but the nice thing about etching is the mediation of the tools and materials – the needle, the acid, the copper plate – and the effort you have to put in to make a line. That’s the appealing thing – the restrictions that the material puts on you.

You don’t tend to colour your prints?
No, I dislike colour in my prints, I think it weakens them. Black and white is good enough.

Who has influenced your printmaking?
Rembrandt, Picasso, all the great printmakers are influences. I like Degas for his relaxed technique. If he got a bit of foul-biting on a plate he didn’t care, he just kept going. In the recent Degas show in Melbourne you could see where he made mistakes on a plate and just left them. He didn’t burnish them off, which was good to see.

Is this something you also do?
Yes. I did a print once that had some fingerprints on it where I touched the ground and I left them there. It’s all part of the plate.

Have you made any breakthroughs in the printing process that have impacted on your painting?
I did a little study for a picture of a grounded ship in 2014, and I started a lithograph of it but I got sick, so it was held up, and when I recovered I worked again on the stone and I made some changes to the image. I based the subsequent painting not on the original oil sketch but on the lithograph. So that was a big help.

Are there effects in your painting you will try to get in the prints?
Of course. That’s how Fred Williams worked – a dialogue of images. He used prints to inform the paintings and vice versa. I do the same.

Is this when there is a quality in a print or painting that will add to the other medium?
Sometimes, other times things are stand-alone and you can’t really transfer them. A lot of prints wouldn’t work as a painting because of the nature of the technique. A dry point has a dramatic look, which often I don’t want in a painting, which should be more restrained. It just depends on the image.

Do any subjects work better in print?
No, but I wouldn’t mind doing a few portrait drypoints at some stage – I’ve done a few but not a lot. I like doing landscape etchings as well. I’ve been planning to take plates out and draw in the landscape.

You’re currently working on a catalogue raisonne of your etchings – can you tell me more about this?
Yes, that’s coming out this year I hope, and it’s going to be online. Irena Zdanowicz is doing it. She was curator of prints and drawings at the NGV for many years, a wonderful curator – deeply knowledgeable and extraordinarily thorough. We started in 2009 and it’s been terrific working with her. This catalogue is going to be the first online one in Australia, a real catalogue raisonne to international standards, which I’m thrilled about.

Would you print the catalogue?
Well it would be the size of a bible! It would require multiple volumes and the costs would be prohibitive when nobody really buys them except libraries. It’s a fantastic website, you can actually layer the states and see the print develop on the screen. It’s beautifully laid out and very clear and easy to use.

How have you found the process of looking back at your prints?
It got me organised. I’m much more careful now to keep my records in order. Thankfully I kept a notebook from when I started printing again in 1988 with details of each print, and that was a huge help.

Did you discover anything in the older prints you want to revisit?
I keep all my plates because I may work on them again. I gave my proofs up until now to the State Library of Victoria. They wanted the plates too and I said no, because I haven’t necessarily finished with them.

Have you changed any plates significantly?
I have changed some of them dramatically, I’ve worked over plates – it’s a whole new edition then, of course; where I’ve changed the matrix you get a new print out of a plate.

What do you see as the major benefits/limitations of printmaking?
I don’t see the constraints of printmaking as limitations, rather they offer a different challenge from painting, drawing and sculpture. The benefit comes from the discipline it takes to make the print, because it is quite hard work and that’s stimulating. It’s the only thing I do without stopping to eat during the day. It’s really very involving but I do it in fits and starts, I’ll do a burst of printmaking and then nothing for a couple of months, or even a year, and then start again. Some years I might have 20 prints, some years I might have two.

Printmaking takes you away from painting, which is good occasionally, you submit to another discipline and a slightly different way of seeing.

This interview was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 39, 2017

Rick Amor | Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours
28 August – 22 September 2018
Niagara Galleries, Melbourne


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