ART - AUSTRALIAN - PETER TOWNSEND


Peter Townsend
Art Monthly, April 1993, p. 35

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 AMAs 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.

Basing AMA 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.


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