ART - AUSTRALIAN - PETER TOWNSEND
Why should anyone
support an ageing pom start a visual arts magazine in Canberra? That
question, with all its sub-implications, was fair enough in June 1987
when Peer Townsend launched Australian
and International Art Monthly, to give it its full baptismal name.
The best answer is to
be founding the 50-plus issue of the journal – as well as in the
embarrassment that many of us who had doubts in 1987 now feel when those
suspicions are resurrected. I was shocked when I looked back through my
file copies to check the date of the first issue. Les than six years
ago! So great has been the impress of AMA that I felt sure it had commenced in 1983, and that Peter had
been around for ever, minus a day or two.
At the beginning there
was another answer which was as discomforting as the question: that
other alternative was that an aging pom had to do it because no young
Australian had the wit drive or initiative to do so.
Paul Taylor had
launched a very different publication in Melbourne some years earlier. Art
& Text was a work of art in its own right, as jealously guarded
and intensely sectarian as any Modernist movement.
Until Peter Townsend
came along, Australia did not have a regular periodical of record and
commentary on the visual arts across the continent. Quarterly journals
cannot do what a monthly does best and keep up to day with changing
exhibitions and issues. Each State had its own voice which lasted for
longer or shorter laps but there were was no national overview.
As an historian, I know
the problems caused by the more than 20-year break between the collapse
of Art in Australia in 1942
and its revival as Art and
Australia in 1963.
As an outsider, Peter
had the advantage of not being part of, or of being seen to be part of,
any of the geographical or theoretical groupings in the Australian art
world. Of course, he had biases. His political sympathies, like those of
most artists, were those of the liberal left. He preferred writing to be
accessible though he never doubted that the material to be discussed
could be difficult.
The improbability of
sustaining a monthly publication is clear when we see how many general
monthlies have disappeared. Peter battled on. Often at personal expense,
when the odds against AMA’s
survival would have driven most editors from the field. It was as if he
felt that having started so improbable an undertaking, the keeping of it
going was beyond doubt.
in Canberra meant that it would be less likely to fall victim to the
power plays from Melbourne of Sydney. His experience of the world and of
art publishing in particular meant that he was never going to fall for
any of the passing factions. Yet he knew that culture could not float
above such disputes and so allowed them space.
Peter was an ideal
editor for a writer. He brought topics together with appropriate, though
not always predictable authors. He was patient when I ran over the world
limit, and forgiving when I failed to produce at all.
After he has handed over the dictatorship. Peter is to visit India on his way to London. When I asked him what he had planned for that trip, he replied: “I thought I might start an Art Monthly India”.