*Speakers: Cathy Pilgrim (C), Kate Warren (K)
C: Good afternoon, everyone. Lovely to see so many faces here in the theatre. Welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Cathy Pilgrim and it’s my privilege to be the Assistant Director General of Collections here at the Library.
I’d like to begin today by acknowledging Australia’s first nations peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and give my respect to the elders past and present and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I would particularly like to acknowledge the Library’s Indigenous staff who share their culture with us so generously.
Thank you for attending this event coming to you from Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. This afternoon’s presentation, Cut Out and Keep: Magazines and the Popularisation of Australian Art in the 1950s and 1960s is by Dr Kate Warren, a 2022 National Library of Australia Fellow. Our distinguished fellowships program supports researchers to make intensive use of the National Library’s rich and varied collections through residencies over 12 weeks. National Library of Australia Fellowships are made possible by generous philanthropic support and Dr Warren’s fellowship is supported this year by the National Library.
Dr Warren is a lecturer in art history and curatorship at the Australian National University. Her research explores the various ways that the visual arts in Australia intersect with broader popular culture including television, film, magazines and the news media. In this lecture Dr Warren will discuss her research into mid-century Australian magazines and their engagement with the visual arts from the educational to the sensational. Please join me in welcoming Dr Kate Warren.
K: Thank you, Cathy, and thank you, everyone, for coming today. I’d also like to begin by acknowledging that I’m speaking today on the unceded lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. I pay respects to elders past and present and to all First Nations people who might be joining us in person today or listening online.
Thank you also to the National Library of Australia for supporting me with this fellowship and for hosting this lecture. It’s been such a pleasure to undertake this intensive research here and I’d particularly like to thank the fellowships team who helped me across my time, Sharyn, Kelly, Matt and Simone. I’d also like to thank Kathryn Favelle and the entire Reader Services team for their help finding and delivering materials, assisting with my enquiries and just generally providing so much enthusiasm and engagement with my research.
I’d also like to quickly acknowledge the other fellows that I’ve met. One of the best things about this fellowship was undoubtedly meeting so many other amazing researchers and I’ve learned so much from their discussions.
So my research investigates how the mainstream media and popular press in Australia has covered the visual arts, particularly in the mid to late 20th century. My research at the Library has been contributing to this larger research project, allowing me to take a deep dive into Australian popular magazines of the 1950s and ’60s. These are some of the titles that I’ve been delving into over my time here and one of the most valuable parts of the fellowship has been making time to focus in detail on these titles and really get to understand their individual characteristics.
The sheer amount of content that these magazines were producing week upon week is phenomenal and I could probably give a whole lecture on any one of these individual titles such is the sheer breadth of their scope but also the complexity and contradictions that emerge out of them. Similarly, being able to compare and contrast publications from the same era has been crucial and only possible through the intensive study that this fellowship has facilitated.
During my time here at the Library I’ve been focusing on titles that have not been digitised so there are some magazines like The Bulletin, Walkabout and The Australian Women’s Weekly that are really important for my research more broadly but I won’t be covering that much today.
The Library holds extensive physical copies of many of these titles and I’m grateful to have had access to these material copies when needed. Coming to the end of my fellowship I’ve a renewed understanding of the vital importance of connecting and integrating digitisation projects alongside consideration of the material objects.
Having said that I have also been getting intimately reacquainted with an old friend, microfilm. That was the response I was expecting. Over the course of my fellowship I’ve looked through thousands of magazines, scouring them for engagement with the visual arts and I found much more than I could possibly cover in one lecture so what I’m presenting today is just one small part of my research, still very much in development.
I originally wanted to use this slide as my lecture’s promotional image because even though it’s not very - visually very striking, it actually perfectly encompasses my topic today. What you’re looking at here is a warning slide placed at the start of a microfilm roll alerting the user to certain omissions or gaps. In this case the slide notes that at the time of scanning some of the issues had badly cut pages and some parts of the magazines had been deliberately removed.
These slides are designed to indicate a sense of lack in perfection, negative feature, but for me this warning came to signify exciting potentials and points of discovery within the gaps. Through the missing pages we can trace evidence of audience engagement with an intervention into these publications and this is really important for me because my research into magazines and popular media, one of my key focuses has been how these forms of media engage with their audiences, how they present, frame and communicate the arts to a broad range of readers, many of whom may not have detailed knowledge of the arts.
Across my research I argue that popular and mainstream media are important to consider critically because they are barometers of cultural taste and they impact powerfully on how things like the arts are or are not valued by Australian audiences.
So to frame my discussion I want to start with two important discoveries that I made during my fellowship. This is the first one, it’s an article from 1967 about artist and author, Norman Lindsay, which appeared in People magazine. Published about two years before Lindsay’s death it’s a six-page illustrated article that presents the artist at work in his Blue Mountains home. It’s titled The Naughtiest Australian and the subtitle reads Norman Lindsay opens his home to People, ie, magazine.
Now the article itself is very interesting as is broader news coverage of a controversial and problematic figure such as Lindsay but I don’t have time to go into that today. Instead I’m interested in what comes next.
A few weeks after the article appears People publish a letter to the editor that Norman Lindsay has subsequently written. It says, since publication of your article in the January 11 issue many people have called uninvited at my home wanting to see my work, especially the ship models. My home is not open to the public and people should not waste their time coming here. My unbroken rule is that anyone wishing to communicate with me personally must ring up first for an appointment.
So I’m just imagining this kind of scene of people turning up uninvited at Norman Lindsay’s house expecting a guided tour. I find it very amusing. But apart from that this was also an important find for me because it demonstrates a clear example of audience engaging with this article.
Now we know that popular magazines knew a lot about their audiences, they were earlier adopters of market research techniques, they conducted large amounts of research themselves and they published readership figures widely including in these – the industry handouts – handbooks, I should say, such as these which were produced by The Women’s Weekly. But actually tracing and tracking direct audience engagement with magazines is a much harder task.
The Norman Lindsay article not only represents a real world example of direct engagement, it also highlights the central role that letters pages played in these magazines which I will come back to.
My second example is from Woman’s Day in 1955. So I started looking at this magazine in microfilm and I came across this cover with a beautiful photograph of Elizabeth Taylor but also with a reference to an Elaine Haxton picture to frame on page 22. Painter Elaine Haxton, while not as much of a household name as her contemporaries such as William Dobell or Russell Drysdale, was still by 1955 an established artist.
To be highlighted on the cover like this indicates to me a clear level of esteem and value that the magazine is attributing to Haxton for their readers to appreciate. So this is the reproduction here of a painting entitled House at Pierrelatte. This was not the only such artwork reproduction I found in Woman’s Day at the time.
We also have a similar presentation of a painting by Australian Phyl Waterhouse as well as a double-page spread of renaissance master Sondro Botticelli’s Primavera. Now this work here took me a while to recognise. Unlike the first two examples it’s not really contextualised and the poor reproductive quality of the microfilm obscures the image so I wanted to check the physical copies, in particular to see if these were reproduced in colour.
I was able to confirm that the Botticelli work was indeed reproduced in colour as was the Phyl Waterhouse painting here. But when I came to look for the Haxton painting it wasn’t there. So just a reminder, this is what I was sort of supposed to find and this is what we actually find in physical copy. So my initial reaction was disappointment but I quickly realised that this missing page was actually what I really needed and wanted to find. It suggests that someone has done exactly what the magazine intended, they’ve cut it out and possibly kept it for themselves.
These two types of engagement, letters to the editor and artwork reproductions, will be the focus of my presentation today. They are some of the ways that I’ve been tracing these elements of audience engagement and connecting this to how magazines communicated the arts to their readers. Letters pages are well known as vehicles for uncovering audience responses. Their usefulness as historical records has been contested in media and communication studies ‘cause they’re not necessarily representative of the general population or readership. Similarly letters have been perceived by some editors and scholars as representative of a poorer quality of public participation. However more recently other academics have argued that despite the limitations of letters they are still useful when considered as an expanded idea of public participation, promoting a discussion of what letters pages make possible, not just what they explicitly reveal.
Secondly, the physical cutting out intervening materially in these magazines connects to important discourses and practices around scrapbooking, for example. Media historian Katie Day Good has argued that a key function of scrapbooking was to quote, ‘enable expressions of taste which can potentially translate into real life gains in cultural capital’, end quote. Transporting and transposing these magazine artefacts into one’s own personal and domestic space is a significant way to build cultural capital and construct one’s self image. And of course these magazines were themselves highly influential in constructing and defining these spaces of domesticity physically, politically and interpersonally.
So before I get into some more examples that I found through my time at the Library I want to set the scene in terms of arts writing and publishing in the era that I’m looking at, the 1950s and ‘60s. And this is an incomplete sort of summary, it’s a bit condensed.
Australia’s most prominent visual arts magazine, Art in Australia, ceased production in 1942 as had other important art and design publications such as The Home and other examples in the ‘40s. Both of these publications were published by Sydney Ure Smith and it wasn’t until 1963 that his son, Sam Ure Smith, revived his father’s publication under the slightly revised title Art and Australia.
Within this gap most visual arts coverage existed primarily in the form of newspaper reviews and coverage and criticism in broader literary or cultural periodicals like Meanjin or Overland. But there are actually very few visual art-specific magazines or periodicals being published in Australia at this time. There were some but not significant numbers of influence. And there were some similar temporal gaps between the publication of art historical books.
Australia’s most influential art historian, Bernard Smith, publishes his significant book, Place, Taste and Tradition in 1945 with subsequent books being released in the early ‘60s. Other prominent chronicles of Australian art history such as Robert Hughes’ The Art of Australia emerged from the mid-‘60s onwards. Also important to note is that the physical quality of art book publishing in Australia during this era was variable. With some exceptions art and art history books were largely published with small black and white illustrations and limited colour reproductions. And in fact the first edition of Hughes’ book was actually cancelled by its publisher, Penguin, because the printing quality was deemed unacceptable.
For all these reasons it’s often presumed that arts writing in Australia during this post-war era was of relatively low quality, low quantity and of little critical or scholarly interest. But interestingly Australian art more broadly boomed over this time. In his important history of the era, A Quiet Revolution, Christopher Heathcote documents the rise of Australian art from the cactus years of the immediate post-war to the halcyon days of the 1960s. Heathcote also writes that until the 1960s arts writing had stayed native for decades which matches the paucity of visual art-specific publications.
Most surveys of Australian arts writing have focused on the state of criticism in review, generally assessing their quality as poor and uninspiring. Through my research though I hope to contribute a broader, nuanced understanding that one, the visual arts were not absent from the wider media landscape of this era contrary to popular belief and two, modes of art writing outside of criticism and review also have value and significance.
When we consider the gaps in specialist art publishing during this time we realise that popular magazines were actually filling a gap in the broader ecology of arts writing. Many popular non-specialist magazines offered regular coverage of the visual arts and my research reveals evidence that audiences both within the art world and outside engaged actively.
So the so-called art boom of the 1960s was covered extensively in the media. Here are just a few examples that I found. And this article here from Nation magazine in 1965 was another interesting and important find. So the article is a reprint of research done by historian, Jane Mayne, about Australians’ changing tastes when buying art. Now the article’s focus is about buying original artworks but it begins with the discussion about the availability of artwork reproductions. It notes that, until recently there were only a few commonly found reproductions of Australian artworks available, artists like Hans Heysen and Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira being the exceptions.
The reproductions available in Australia though were commonly of international artworks however the article notes that this balance was shifting. It cites a, quote, popular magazine that was offering its readers large and well-made copies of paintings by William Dobell and Russell Drysdale, end quote, which quickly sold 4,000 copies each. So the magazine in question is Pix which started its popular artwork reproduction series in 1962 and I’ll come back to that example later.
Now The Nation article characterises Pix as having been surprised at the popularity of its artwork offer but I question whether this really was the case because as I hope to show this practice of magazines providing its readers with reproductions of Australian artworks was actually quite well established by the 1960s.
So in this context of art writing and reproduction what did magazines offer? Popular magazines of this era didn’t regularly publish criticism or exhibition reviews although there were some exceptions, largely though magazines’ coverage of the arts was focused on articles of news, features, reportage, special series and the social pages. The value of these types of articles is often overlooked in art history however my project of ongoing, thorough archival research and close reading of these articles reveals much more breadth, nuance and informed engagement with the arts than is often presumed.
Concurrently magazines also offered relatively high production values that reproduced artworks frequently in colour at relatively large scale and affordable prices. Magazines actively spruiked their state-of-the-art printing technologies and their visual and material qualities to distinguish themselves from their rivals. Magazines often self-reflectively wrote about their printing processes as this article from People shows. With this in mind, the visual arts were an ideal vehicle for them to demonstrate these claims. But more than simple marketing tools, engagement with the visual also matched magazines’ broader goals which were highly invested in cultivating ideas of Australianness in the post-war era.
Magazines constructed ideals of the Australian way of life which were based around ideas of the suburban dream, domestic comfort and a rather parochial nationalism. As historian Susan Sheridan writes, in the later years this Australian way of life would become considered traditional and old-fashioned but at the time this was new because, quote, ‘it depended on more democratic access to erstwhile luxuries than the pre-war world had imagined possible’, end quote.
Access to the visual arts fits extremely well in this characterisation. All these elements come together to mean that magazines of the era played an important role in popularising and at times advocating for Australian artists in ways that goes against the grain of how popular magazines are commonly perceived.
So now I’ll present some examples that I’ve discovered through my fellowship that illustrate these ideas around the popularisation of Australian art, artwork for reproductions and audience engagement. The first example here is from AM or Australian Monthly magazine. AM ran from around 1948 to 1955 and it shifted to a weekly in the ‘50s. It was published by Consolidated Press, the same publisher as The Women’s Weekly. Like The Weekly it had high production values and it targeted a family audience but it leant towards a more male readership.
From the very start of its publication AM included regular reproductions of paintings to frame which you can sort of see here from this early 1948 cover. Here we have Russell Drysdale’s painting, The Cricketers which is also from 1948 so it’s a very contemporary reproduction and this is also a painting that will go on to be reproduced extensively over the years. Here we have a similar reproduction of a work by Margaret Preston and these are just a couple of the many examples of reproductions that the magazine publishes.
AM was physically quite a large magazine, about 40cm tall so their reproductions were not insubstantial in size and magazines’ readers engaged with them quite enthusiastically. These are some letters to the editors from April 1949 with both complimenting the magazine on the artwork reproductions. The first letter is particularly significant to me. It reads, I want to express my appreciation of your fine art reproductions, they are quite the best published in Australia today. May I hope that in the future you will feature Lloyd Rees, Donald Friend and Charles Bush? And it’s signed H R Bonython from Mt Pleasant, South Australia. So this must almost certainly be Hugh Reskymer Bonython aka Kim Bonython who would go on to be an influential art collector, gallery owner amongst many other pursuits.
So here we have someone who we know to be highly engaged in the arts who’s reading this magazine and think highly enough to write in. And there are really diverse examples of audience engagements with these artwork reproductions. Artists such as Lloyd Rees and Hans Heysen themselves expressed their approval of the reproductions. Sorry, these photographs are not the best but here and here.
We have an example here of a six-year-old boy who’s taken the time to write and send in his own picture that he has made in response to the publication of another painting. I have this letter here written in by Fred D King of Barmedman, New South Wales in response to a reproduction of a painting by Justin O’Brien. King writes, ‘please, when you reproduce a painting would you mind analysing the painting rather than giving a personal history of the artist?’ And then he goes on to ask some specific questions about the content and the composition to which the magazine’s unnamed arts editor responds in a more detailed art historical and visual analysis including by inserting a comparative painting by 15th century French artist, Jean Fouquet.
So these examples all demonstrate ways that AM’s readers approached the artwork reproductions and engaged with the magazine to deepen their understanding and their own contributions. The selection of paintings that were reproduced across the pages of AM were sometimes eclectic and uneven in terms of style and form. While the magazine was regularly engaging and clearly engaging with the contemporary artists it also used its artwork reproductions to present more populist fare. It seems that the most popular reproduction of this era was this painting here of Phar Lap by artist, Stuart Reid. A number of readers write in to say that they have framed it for their home.
Traditional portraits of figures such as King George and our Prime Minister Robert Menzies also feature. And this letter here by Phil O’Brien in Fitzroy says that he has hung the portrait of the King in his own domestic art gallery which also includes a list of portrait of public figures from Queen Victoria to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne.
So this example here is more conservative, socially driven engagement with the reproductions compared to the earlier more artist-informed – artistic-informed engagements. But from Kim Bonython to Phil O’Brien these contrasts tell me that the magazine must have been successfully engaging with a broad readership and adapting its use of visual arts effectively.
These examples are enlightening because they reveal that AM was clearly aiming to promote a visual appreciation of the arts to a readership whose baseline level of art appreciation and knowledge was varied. With its inclusion of its cut-out and keep art reproductions from the very first issues this tells me that the magazine saw the visual arts as an integral part of its editorial and also as a key selling point.
AM uses its coverage of the art – sorry, AM uses its coverage of the arts prominently in its advertising of the day and we can see here in two advertisements for the magazine which are taken from The Women’s Weekly and The Sunday Telegraph so you can see here it promoting its reproduction of the Drysdale painting and here an article on modern French – exhibition of modern French art.
My reading of the magazine’s engagement is that the visual arts were not positioned as an added extra or as a nice to have but rather as an element of Australian cultural life clearly coded as important and of value. The invitation to cut out and frame the reproductions reflects a tangible material desire to insert a sense of value of the arts into the domestic spaces of its readers. AM’s series of artwork reproductions were broad in scope but a bit uneven in focus. They were accompanied by annotations of a variety of authors but sometimes lacked sort of consistency of voice and tone.
Another example I want to speak to today from the same era is from the so-called barber shop magazine, Australasian Post. Australasian Post went through many iterations and mastheads over its 138-year history. The example that I’m going to discuss today comes from the early 1950s when it had just rebranded itself as New Post. In the relaunched magazine’s editor of 7th of February 1952 it talks about its dual desires to reflect the spirit of Australia while also offering a thoroughly modern kind of journalism.
In this editorial Post highlights the role it wants the visual arts to play. In a section titled Something to Keep they write, we want to make the new Post as interesting to look at as it will be to read. Some of it we feel you will want to keep around the house for good, for instance our weekly colour reproduction of an Australian masterpiece. We want you to think of page 13 as your own private collection.
So again you have similar goals expressed quite explicitly in this editorial but I think what makes this series stand out is undoubtedly the work of Post’s art critic who compiled the works, Arnold Shore. Compared to AM, Shore’s series presented a more tightly curated selection of works focused around presenting informed artistic knowledge to the everyday reader. This is not surprising given Arnold Shore’s background. Shore was also an artist himself who was highly influential in introducing modernist art in Australia through his establishment of the Bell Shore School in Melbourne, his arts writing career at newspapers such as The Argus and The Age and his work as a guide lecturer at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Shore’s commitment to arts education and access shines through in his writing for Australasian Post. The first artwork reproduced in this series is this portrait by John Longstaff and over the course of the next four months readers were presented with reproductions of some iconic Australian artworks.
In his early articles Shore focuses mainly on biographical details of the artists and practical descriptions of their processes but as the series continues he begins to offer more interpretive and analytical readings. In his reading of Sidney Nolan’s painting, Pretty Polly Mine, Shore talks about how the painting reflects the aesthetic, modernising sentiments of the era with its bold colour palette, simplified depictions and purposefully awkward elements of symbolic composition.
Shore acknowledges the visual incongruities that some viewers might find difficult to reconcile, explaining that Nolan, quote,’ does not paint directly from nature but paints his idea of what he has seen in his studio’, end quote. Arguing that pure realism is on the way out, Shore positions Nolan’s aesthetic as modernising the nostalgic sense of Australianness that magazines like Australasian Post often promoted.
Nolan becomes one of the most frequently profiled and reproduced artists in Australian mid-century press and Pretty Polly Mine is a particularly interesting artwork in this context. While I was at the Library, I was also able to look through some manuscript collections including Geoffrey Dutton’s papers and through that I’ve been able to confirm it seems this is a painting that Nolan himself actively suggested for reproduction, not to Australasian Post but to other – in other circumstances.
Shore’s approach seems to have been popular with Post readers as this selection of letters illustrates. The letter titled Art for the Man in the Street is reflective of many of the responses and again we see a broad range of engagement including about the content and the materiality of the reproductions.
This letter here from Eric Stephenson from Warrandyte, Victoria is interesting. He writes, Mr Arnold Shore is selecting the paintings well and the printing is getting better but it’s a pity the paper is so terrible. You could do much worse and at any rate it’s nice to know that you take the trouble to bother about art at all. You would accomplish more for Australian art with a bit of hard searching amongst the lesser known artists than by merely using the easy to get at the National Gallery.
I’ve done some further research. I believe that Eric Stephenson is himself one of the lesser known artists. And after a few months Shore does change his format to a sort of almost weekly column of more reviews of exhibitions of contemporary artists but his articles still bear the hallmarks of tone that try to educate and explain artistic concepts to his readers.
This article here is a wonderful example. It focuses on the work of Melbourne-based artist, Max Dimmack, and how he constructs his abstracted views of suburban landscape. Shore uses this suburban entry point to present an accessible and nuanced discussion not only of Dimmack’s work but also of contemporary arts practice and art spectatorship more broadly. Dimmack’s paintings display visual influences of abstraction but they also retain representational approaches. Shore uses this to appeal to his viewers’ perceptions of modern art.
One of the tropes that you frequently find across the popular media of this era is that the term abstract is deployed pejoratively or imprecisely to signify any art that is away from any type of realistic representation. I think this article is a clear response to such perceptions. Shore writes that, Dimmack is a modern which means he has no intention of reproducing what he sees realistically, no great artist ever did anyway. There’s always a personal vision that endows even the most realistic work with special interest, end quote.
This is a simple but important point about the nature of artistic interpretation and the cultural construction of vision. Through this article Shore offers his readers key forms of art historical and critical knowledge to increase their depth of understanding and interpretation of modern art of the day.
Shore ends his article with the following observation, quote, ‘work like Dimmack’s should give you a clue to what art means. It may even cause you to glance afresh at what you can see on your own street. You don’t realise how much your vision is controlled by art. Knowing what you see is usually a matter of knowing what art has taught you to see’, end quote.
In his gentle articulation of culturally constructed frameworks of vision Shore directly addresses the audience, challenging them to reconsider how they understand the place, role and influence of art in their daily lives. It’s a remarkably sophisticated example of arts communication that meets its audience on an empathetic level but doesn’t dumb down complex ideas.
Returning to Stephenson’s article it illustrates how attuned readers were with magazines’ tactility and one of the real pleasures of my fellowship research has been encountering these points of evidence of personal material engagement. So we find parts of pages missing in the microfilm here with a nice abstract sort of depiction. Things missing from the articles and the physical copies themselves and often in ways that indicate quite a specific engagement, in this case a cut-out Dalia flower which I presume might be used in a piece of decoupage or something.
This example here I don’t have time to talk about in detail but it’s from a series of art and architecture explainer articles that The Women’s Weekly published for teenagers in the 1960s which the magazine says, cut out these and keep them, we will publish this series in the shape and size you see here so that you can cut out the article on each period and neatly paste it in a book.
Or these advertisements here for Nation magazine which promote the purchasing of back issues to collect and then save in ‘specially designed binders. These examples add important understanding to how the materiality of magazines intersected with their temporalities. Magazines marked a regularity of time through their publication schedules, weekly, fortnightly but readers also used magazines to carve out their own personal temporal spaces, weekend reading, passing the time in the waiting room, on the daily commute etc.
As David Carter has written, ‘different temporalities inscribe different relations to the everyday, the commercial, the private or public spheres. Their temporality is crucial to how magazines address us in our private or public beings’, end quote.
These examples demonstrate that while all magazines were conscious of their temporalities they did not see themselves as purely transient. By emphasising their tactility and encouraging readers to intervene materially magazines sought to also insert themselves into personal and domestic spaces on more permanent levels. These interventions speak to the ways that magazines could construct themselves as – that readers could construct themselves as social individuals with cultural values and art was part of that equation. This understanding goes against perceptions of popular press as simply purveyors of philistinism or sensationalism.
These elements exist too, of course but my research seeks to draw a nuanced understanding of the breadth, complexities and impacts of magazines’ engagement with the arts at a crucial time of modernisation in the Australian art world. Susan Sheridan writes about The Women’s Weekly, that it constructed ideals around its readers that were filled with contradictions and I think this observation applies to most magazines of this era.
Acknowledging these contradictions is crucial to studying these magazines because equally important – but equally important is to not dismiss magazines’ impacts and contributions because of those contradictions.
So my final example is the one I mentioned at the start, that of Pix magazine’s series of artwork productions in the ‘60s. Pix’s venture represents a shift in format. Rather than reproducing artworks within the magazines to be cut out Pix produces a series of limited-edition prints of Australian paintings that its readers could purchase via coupons in the magazine. This is the cover of the first issue that announces its first print in the series offering a 4,200 pound Dobell print for 10 shillings.
The first print offered was William Dobell’s ‘Wangi Boy’, a well known work at the time which I believe was probably reproduced beforehand. Pix writes that, quote, ‘here is an unprecedented chance for you to get a top-quality print of this great Australian painting for less than a third of the normal price’. They also write that the prints are almost full-sized and I quote, ‘the highest quality available in Australia. They are on the best and most expensive lithographic paper and have taken seven weeks to prepare’, end quote.
Between 1962 and ’67 Pix produced at least eight reproductions by Australian painters including Dobell, Drysdale, Tom Roberts, Sali Herman and Sidney Nolan. The magazine’s focus on these print series dominates its broader arts coverage and it publishes detailed articles about the printing process itself, articles about artworks, artists inspecting their prints as well and even instructional articles about how to make your own frames for your purchase to prints. The print series makes for extremely effective promotional tools as well, magazines love to run these kind of articles about the rush for the prints, selling fast, don’t miss out etc. And these examples seem to also have something of a flow-on effect, spurring competition across publication and media.
So if you remember back to the Nation article that I mentioned at the start that cited the Pix reproductions a few weeks later we find a letter written in response by author, historian and publisher, Geoffrey Dutton. He writes, your author writes of a lack of colour prints of the work of modern Australian artists. It appears that he was writing before the publication last November of our series of 21 colour prints and paintings by Dobell, Drysdale and a number of other artists.
Dutton published these under the imprint, Artists of Australia, with partner, Robert Horgan. The NLA holds copies of these prints which are very large and consists of five books in total so one of Dobell prints, one book of Nolan prints, a book of Drysdale prints, Arthur Boyd and then one final book of multiple artists. The collections are loosely bound so that prints could be easily removed.
I was able to consult with Geoffrey Dutton’s papers held here at the Library to confirm more details of the publication. They were high quality and they retailed I think for around 3 to £4 each which is quite expensive and there’s a much larger story to tell about these prints which I don’t have time for today. But I’ve also been doing some research into the ABC archives and I actually found an episode of the ABC Arts program, The Lively Arts, that documents the making of these prints in great detail and it includes interviews with artists speaking about the prints. Drysdale, for example, loves them, Leonard French was somewhat more ambivalent.
So to sum up what I’ve presented today is only a selection of what I found to date. There are examples of artwork reproductions that pre-date this time and there are many examples that continue afterwards which I hope to keep researching including references found in The Australian newspaper, The Daily Mirror, Walkabout and many more.
Through these I hope to trace further how Australian art was popularised and inserted into domestic spaces. In order to understand more broadly how magazines mediated and influenced cultural taste we cannot consider their articles in isolation, we need to understand them within the structures in which they circulated. And artwork reproductions seem to have been a key element in that equation.
Finally what I think is really interesting is that these traces of engagement, while disparate and dispersed, can still be found today. Hopefully this will form the next part of my research, possibly through conducting interviews or surveys but I imagine it will probably also involve going down a few eBay wormholes searching for vintage Australian art reproductions.
As you can see here they have quite different price expectations but again I think this also speaks to people’s understanding or misunderstanding of value but I will have to leave that for another day. Thank you so much for your time.
C: Thank you very much, Kate, for that really fascinating presentation. I’d been sitting in the audience thinking about the several hundred of scrapbooks that we have in our manuscript collection containing a lot of the little snip-outs that you showed up on the screen, I’m sure, and thinking that perhaps those scrapbooks that people have put together, a personal representation of how they’re feeling, what’s inspiring them and maybe they’re the mood boards of the time so maybe another fellowship or topic altogether. We’ve got some time now for questions from the audience. If you do have a question please do raise your hand, we have microphones today. We are recording this session so we please ask that you use the microphone. So over to you, there’s one just down here.
A: Thank you. That was wonderful, Kate, thanks so much.
K: Thanks Denise.
A: My question is about another form of popular reproduction, perhaps ‘cause I’m a hoarder or because I used to frequent op shops when I had time when I was a student. That’s the Library, there were framed illustrations and I think they were held in schools and in libraries and I wondered if you’d come across documentation of – or if this sort of spilled over into that kind of format.
K: I haven’t come across anything but I haven’t been looking for it. But one of the areas that does cross over certainly with educational programs and not just for students but also adult education as well so one of the areas that I have been wanting to look at for quite a while but haven’t yet is something like the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne which worked with artists like – so – which worked – which sort of presented and developed you know resources for discussion, broad discussion. So – yeah so to answer your question I haven’t found anything specific about those Library resources but I haven’t been looking but I do see those connections very much and I – what I find interesting about magazines is that it sort of – I think brings together ideas of public education that are outside those pure educational institutions and that’s why I think they’re interesting so I’ll take a note, I’m going to delve in more.
A: Hi Kate.
K: Hi Jenny.
A: Really nice presentation, thank you. I’m just wondering if you cracked a code of finding out who those unidentified art editors are because this - the bane of researchers’ existence, isn’t it, when that person who’s clearly guiding opinion, editorial opinion and shaping public response. Have you had any luck in finding out, tracking down who those people are?
K: Yes and no, it depends. And you’re right, it’s very variable in terms of how much people were acknowledged and named and given by-lines at this time. So, in terms of the example I gave from AM, no, I haven’t, I haven’t looked but there isn’t much information about AM in general ‘cause it was quite short-lived. But another interesting example that I didn’t talk about was – so Australasian Post in the ‘40s, one of its really key arts editors and writers was Alan McCulloch who was sort of named but also sort of not. I’ve had some luck and often it’s through talking with my fellow art historians and researchers about who is who and I think there are certain cases where – particularly in some of the newspapers in the arts sort of review sections, they’re just often titled as our art critic but it’s fairly well known who they are but not in every case. And so I try wherever I can but sometimes it’s hard, yeah. But it’s a really good reminder of how important it is, yeah.
A: Two quick questions, first was about any evidence of kind of copyright fees to the artists for some of those reproductions but also a second question about the Australasian Post one you said was targeted particularly at men. Have you seen much sort of gendering of some of the other images shown through - particularly with the women’s magazines – and then a big question about this particular moment about promoting Australian art, how it fits with a sort of general promotion about Australian culture at that time.
K: First question, copyright, I found some evidence in the example of Geoffrey Dutton’s that is quite well documented in his papers that they did provide artist fees for the reproductions. I can’t remember how much they were but that was clear. For the magazines I haven’t found any evidence but one of the real challenges of working in this area is that corporate archives of these magazines are just often lost, hard to access. They can be destroyed or gotten rid of when ownership changes so I think it will be hard to find that but I’m always on the look-out.
The second question was the gendered aspect. That’s a really big question, actually so I would say yes, there is but it’s perhaps not quite as dominant as you might imagine it to be. These magazines, like the ‘50s and ‘60s are – I guess my research is – I’m not imagining that it will create an entirely new narrative around how Australian art was received at this time and this might actually go towards your third question as well. They were still very much sort of working in a arts world that was highly masculinised and we still see that at play today so with the National Gallery of Australia’s Know My Name program, that just shows you still how incredibly masculinised this world has been and still is.
So the magazines were working within that framework so they’re not doing anything radically sort of different. They were often you know very well connected to arts institutions of that time like the National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales so they absorbed some of those institutional gendered biases as well.
Having said that you do pick up things, though, especially in the women’s magazines that while not on a huge level but still on an important level do start to I guess chip away at that in terms of giving opportunities for women artists that wouldn’t have been I guess possible beforehand. So like Women’s Day for example – I didn’t have time to talk about this – Elaine Haxton worked for them as an illustrator and she – a few years later they give her a kind of – it’s like a sort of semi-promotional exhibition tour around the world. And so she – and it’s sponsored by the Venetian Blind Association, it’s really strange. So it’s gendered domestic but it’s also you know a supported, highly promotional series that promotes her work and creates an exhibition for her. The Women’s Weekly has an exhibition – creates a portraiture prize in the ‘50s that is subtly gendered towards sort of balancing the ledger a little bit. So, it’s complex, it’s not huge. There are these gendered aspects but I think they’re not quite as pronounced as you might imagine.
I think also the Women’s Weekly’s just really interesting to remember that it’s a women’s magazine but it had a very large male readership and these magazines, even though they kind of skew towards say a male readership or a female readership, they always appeal – the whole goal is to actually appeal to men and women and so you do see that across the letters pages as well.
A: Thank you, great paper. This is another big question which you may not want to enter into the world of making massive generalisations. Nevertheless in the ‘60s where you’re talking about the development of a kind of visual vocabulary for Australians in general how are Australians depicting themselves or how in popular magazines? What’s the type of image of Australia that’s coming through? Is there anything that you feel that you can say about that at this stage in your research? I understand if you don’t want to.
K: It’s definitely something that I’m sort of still thinking through. I guess one thing I would add I think that’s come through my research is that there’s a, I guess a shifting relationship between how Australians see themselves in terms of you know looking internationally and you know seeing ourselves abroad here. I mean I know that the sort of clichéd, well-worn ideas around cultural cringe and that are well kind of documented. I think what I do see in Australia through the magazines, a lot of these is almost like a kind of boosterism at times towards Australia particularly in relation to art.
So, you do see like quite a sense of wanting to present Australia as world class you know up there with the UK, with America. You do also see I think in the ‘60s I guess a shifting of relations from you know looking towards the UK towards shifting more towards America. So, there are these kind of relations that do start to filter through. But yeah, it’s definitely something that I am going to keep looking through, yeah. But I do think the way that art frames this kind of tells us – can tell us a bit more about those broader sort of social perceptions.
A: You’re going to hate me too. You work in the archive and you’re always going to get big, big picture questions at the end. And this isn’t gender and it’s not nation, it’s class and it’s in relation to the disappearance of art in Australia and the US myth, empire in its last iteration, Art in Australia under Peter Bellew was extraordinarily luxury and high end. What happened to that? I mean even in Art in Australia and in The Home they’re very, very expensive things that are advertised. Where is the high-end readership or does it all just totally democratise and there’s no attention?
K: It’s a great question. I don’t have the answer but you’re right that – I mean even the price point of The Home, to buy the magazine itself was you know quite significantly – I can’t remember how much but it was pricey. I guess - I mean – it’s hard to trace and it’s hard to know exactly. My sense is that they probably would have shifted to those more sort of literary kind of magazines like Meanjin and Overland which did include coverage of the visual arts but it wasn’t exclusive. So there were these – and I think too –
A: Or is it perhaps access, greater access to international magazines?
K: That’s true, yeah.
A: [unclear 00:15] and things like that.
K: No, that’s absolutely correct, especially artists had a lot of access to really important international magazines like The Studio, for example was very popular, well read in Australia so no question, international magazines, other more broader kind of cultural periodicals. But I think one of the really interesting things you do find and I think David Carter from UQ makes this point, that if you look at the editorials of these types of magazines at this era one of the most common phrases that he says becomes almost like a cliché is neither highbrow nor lowbrow. So so many of these magazines, whether they were Australasian Post or whether they were Meanjin, they were trying to tread or at least be seen to tread this kind of middlebrow sort of road of appealing to everyone. And so yeah but it’s really interesting and I think that that you know that disappearance of The Home and Art in Australia hasn’t really been unpacked that much in art history and it sort of came to me as a realisation a bit late so I really want to keep looking at that.
A: Hello Kate, thanks for a great presentation.
K: Thank you.
A: I have a question and also a bit of comment. So the question is really around, it was really interesting, the way you commented on the tone of the sort of art criticism or education that was being delivered and I’m just wondering if you’ve noticed that it’s distinctly different to what might have been, say an art columnist in The Argus or one of the newspapers, whether it was very different and so I’ll leave that question with you. And the other thing I was going to say is the Library’s just finished digitising a lot of literary and poetry journals and they are full of reproductions of many of the same artists so that’s – but I haven’t had a good enough look but it’s interesting, once again they don’t seem to be particularly well contextualised, it’s like you’re interested in poetry, here’s some good art.
K: Yeah, that’s not surprising. Yeah, and that’s the other thing I just – you keep discovering, I keep discovering these examples and like even the AM was a relatively late discovery so there was obviously a lot. Yeah, in term of the tone I guess comparing it to those newspapers one thing that I – it’s interesting ‘cause there are crossovers between writers who write across those papers so Arnold Shore is one, Alan McCulloch and I haven’t really done a really deep dive into comparing them. But there is definitely a difference.
I think often with those newspaper reviews, often they’re very short, actually and they – whereas one thing that definitely characterises like a lot of these popular populist magazines is I think the appeal to their readership, who they perceive their readership to be which I don’t think you get quite so much in the newspaper because it’s sort of news, it’s reporting, it’s a bit more sort of objective in its goals, whereas the magazines, they know so much about their readers, who they want their readers to be so you do get a very clear sense of talking for – like you know in a sort of educative, explaining way, much more than say you know critique or analysis mode. So that’s absolutely quite characteristic.
But having said that I mean within the magazines you get vast differences in tones and styles of articles. They were just producing so much content with so many different writers that you know within the same magazine, within the same year or even issue you can actually get articles that are just so different in terms of the tone. So you know one can be really quite a sensationalist you know expose of art, Picasso, probably. He was a popular target whereas a few issues later you can have a really quite thoughtful exploration of the value of Australian art at the time. So that’s one of the like pleasures of the research but also one of the huge challenges because it’s so broad and hard to generalise.
C: One last question, up the back.
A: You spoke mostly about Australian art in your presentation and you did just mention Picasso but was there a sort of similar trend in the reproduction of international art and if so do you think it was to achieve the same cultural purpose?
K: Yeah, great question. The reproduction of international artworks at least in this era in these magazines was much less common and so no, I think it’s quite a different purpose in some ways. I do think that – I feel like magazines at this time focused on Australian art because they had access to artists, there was this sense of – that gives a sense of immediacy, you can kind of connect with the artist and use that as a sort of marketing and tool of understanding as well. So no, I think there is – there are important differences between how magazines approach international art compared to Australian art but at the same time it does shift over this time. So, I think sort of looking towards say earlier like the ‘40s and that there is this sense of a lot of content coming from overseas so the National Gallery in London, for example, and that does shift into often more explicit coverage and focus towards Australian art. So, I think that kind of goes towards the earlier question about you know where Australians sort of saw themselves at this time.
I think there’s a bit of a tendency to almost in some ways treat Australian art more seriously than international art sometimes at the time. A lot of international art like Picasso or Salvador Dali that features can be written about in terms of celebrity culture and that sort of comes through. So yeah, I think they are quite different at times.
C: Thank you, Kate, thank you for being so generous with time to answer questions this afternoon as well, they were all great questions. We didn’t have any questions from our online audience but we had many, many compliments on your presentation today so I’ll pass those on. So, as we draw to a close this afternoon just a few things for you to note, our next fellowship presentation is a performance by our 2022 National Folk fellow, Dr Mahesh White-Radhakrishnan who will be exploring musical links between South Asia, Australia and the world through the lens of quadrille music. I hope you can join us for this performance that will take place on Monday, the 14th of November at 6pm here at the Library.
Our website is the place where you’ll be able to find recordings of similar interesting and diverse talks and performances from our fellows and these are also available via our YouTube channel. So thank you for attending today and please join me once again in congratulating and thanking Dr Kate Warren for today’s fabulous presentation.
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Dr Kate Warren presents her 2022 National Library Fellowship research into mid-century Australian magazines and their engagement with the visual arts.
Australian popular magazines of the mid-century era frequently covered, wrote about, and supported Australian artists, spanning modes of engagement that ranged from the educational to the sensational.
This presentation will focus on how magazines appealed to audience engagement through their materiality and their use of developing printing technologies. Artwork reproductions boomed during this time, and magazines actively encouraged their readers to materially intervene in their publications: for example, by cutting out articles and reproductions to be framed, scrapbooked and inserted into the personal domestic spaces that these magazines also helped to construct and define. As such, magazines sought to influence broader social ideas around the popularisation and perceived value of Australian art and culture.
Dr Kate Warren is a 2022 National Library of Australia Fellow.
About Dr Kate Warren
Dr Kate Warren is a Lecturer of Art History and Curatorship at the Australian National University. Her research explores the various ways that the visual arts in Australia intersect with broader popular culture, including television, film, magazines and the news media. Her current project, to which her National Library Fellowship contributes, explores the histories of how the arts have been covered and represented across the popular press from the mid-twentieth century to today.