The James Gleeson oral history collection
James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists
21 May 1979
James Gleeson: Mervyn, it's now into its 17th year, Art and Australia, and it's become something of a national institution in the art world of this country. I wonder if you could remember back to the very beginning of the idea; how it started and how it came into being?
Mervyn Horton: Yes. I joined a board of the Ure Smith somewhere in the late forties–it was an advisory board–because the active board was not very active and so Sid Ure Smith got a few people together. I remained with that till about 1950, I think, or '51 when I was in England and Sidney Ure Smith died and I came back to be editor. I may have become a director just before that, I can't remember. Anyway, I became editor of Art of Ure Smith. Now, during all the time we were together Sid Ure Smith always talked about reviving Art in Australia, which he'd begun in 1916 and continued until about 1941 when it was taken over by the Sydney Morning Herald, or John Fairfax, and Peter Bellieu was made editor of the last six–I think was–issues. Then it petered out and there was this great gap. After Sid died, his son came back into the business and he again wanted to revive this magazine, and so did I of course by then, and Gwen Morton Spencer, who'd been the editor before me. We talked a lot about it but we never got around to doing very much. Then one day you and John Olsen and Leonard French rang me and said you'd like to talk to me about starting an art magazine. So we got together and you wanted some advice about it. I pointed out it's a pretty professional thing you were trying to take on, that none of you have very much time to do it. Then I went back and spoke to Sam, who really then got very agitated in case somebody else did start another magazine. So we thought we might all get together. We had some meetings and it was decided we couldn't revive Art in Australia. For one reason, it was virtually belonged to The Herald at the time it closed. Also, it was a magazine of a certain type and quality and design that was all to do with the past, and we should do something to deal with more contemporary thinking. Other people joined us. I think Wallace Thornton was one.
James Gleeson: Yes.
Mervyn Horton: Hoff, I think, came in in a kind of way from Melbourne; one or two others. I can't remember who they all were at the beginning. We hoped to get a paid editor like Laurie Thomas, but he wouldn't take it on. We'd already tried that, incidentally, when Sam was talking about doing it, the revived magazine. One of the great problems was getting staff because we didn't get very much money.
James Gleeson: Yes.
Mervyn Horton: The same thing arose. So, in the end, I agreed to edit it till it got established, and I've just continued doing so because it never got that established it could afford to pay perhaps a more suitable editor I don't know. Anyway, that's how the thing all came about. It rose out of a need for a magazine since Art in Australia had collapsed.