Dr. Ashley Robert Crawford (born 1960, Melbourne, Australia) is a freelance cultural critic, author, essayist, arts journalist and curator based in Melbourne. He is the author of a number of books on Australian art, including Transformations: The Work of Sonia Payes (Thames & Hudson, 2016), Wimmera: The Work of Philip Hunter (Thames & Hudson, 2002), Stephen Bush: Gelderland (Sante Fe Museum, New Mexico, 2007) and Spray, The Work of Howard Arkley (co-author, Craftsman House, 1997). He is, most recently, author of Dark Gnosis: Religious Imaging in Millennialist America (Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2018) He has been a regular contributor to The Age, The Australian, The Guardian, The Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Art Collector, Art Monthly, and numerous other publications. He is also the former editor of Tension, World Art, 21•C and Photofile magazines. He trained as a journalist in the late 1970’s and holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Melbourne.

Early Career

Ashley Crawford began his career as a copyboy and then cadet journalist at the age of 17 with the broadsheet newspaper The Herald in 1978 shortly before Rupert Murdoch acquired it and converted it to a down-market tabloid. During that period he was required to experience the gamut of journalistic practice including court reporting, police rounds, politics and finance before briefly settling into the position of rock critic. Dissatisfied with the conservative nature of The Herald, and enthralled with the DIY ethos of the punk era, in 1980 he initiated the publication of the monthly culture magazine The Virgin Press (22 issues, 1980-1983). Beginning with little capital and initially unable to pay contributors, the magazine still attracted youthful writers covering a range of social and cultural issues. As it evolved it gradually veered in its coverage towards art, rock and cinema. In 1983, Crawford changed the magazine’s title to Tension (1983-1990, 25 issues). An independent bi-monthly of culture, Tension allowed a platform for such then-emerging writers such as Paul Taylor, Adrian Martin, Catharine Lumby, McKenzie Wark, Richard Guilliatt, Mark Mordue and numerous others. It also published original work by Nick Cave, Jean Baudrillard, Timothy Leary, Gerard Malanga, Keith Haring, Gerald Murnane and others. Crawford increasingly steered the magazine towards coverage of the contemporary art scene with profiles of such artists as Dale Frank, Mike Parr, John Nixon, Jenny Watson, Peter Tyndall, Imants Tillers, Maria Kozic, Philip Brophy, Vivienne Shark LeWitt, Stieg Persson, Howard Arkley, Bill Henson, Robert Hunter and Linda Marrinon.

To make ends meet during this period Crawford undertook other employment. In the early ’80s he worked with rock entrepreneurs Ken West and Vivian Lees (later to establish The Big Day Out) in hosting visits by such acts as The Fall, New Order and John Cooper Clarke. In 1986-87 he became Director of Artists’ Week for the Adelaide Festival and from 1986-87, Editor of Video Week, Australia’s first weekly video industry magazine. From 1987-89 he worked as Senior Consultant for WMCC Public Relations with such clients as Carlton & United Breweries, Time magazine, Business Review Weekly, Moët & Chandon Champagne, The 7.30 Report (ABC TV), Western Mining Corporation and Laminex Industries. In 1985-86 he acted as Assistant Director at the fledgling Australian Centre For Contemporary Art (ACCA) where he helped oversee the inaugural Three Room project by Howard Arkley, David Larwill and Juan Davila. He also assisted with the visits of such artists as Keith Haring, Brett Whiteley and Sidney Nolan.

During the late 1980s, largely due to the work of designer Terence Hogan, Tension won a number of coveted awards including The Australian Writers and Art Directors Award for illustration and design (1986), The Melbourne Art Directors Awards for illustration and design (1987) and the Melbourne Art Directors Award for Best Printed Item (1989).

Australia’s financial crisis in the early 1990s forced the demise of Tension in 1990. Crawford was immediately offered the position of Communications Manager at The Australian Commission for the Future and editor of the organization’s magazine 21•C that covered technology, science and culture. He was able to employ Terence Hogan and Tension’s editor, Ray Edgar (who had joined the team in 1988) to reformat the magazine. While he inherited established 21•C contributors Phillip Adams, Barry Jones, Robyn Williams the three founders of the Commission), Paul Davies and Margaret Whitlam, he was also able to import a number of Tension alumni such as Catharine Lumby, Darren Tofts and McKenzie Wark. Under Crawford’s stewardship 21•C also sponsored tours in Australia by linguist Noam Chomsky and American author Kathy Acker.

Mid Career

In 1993 Crawford was offered the opportunity to establish a new, international art magazine by the Swiss-based publishers Gordon & Breach. Accepting the challenge, he became Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of World Art magazine. World Art published original work by such well-known artists and writers as Kathy Acker, Robert Hughes, Bruce Sterling, David Byrne, Michael Moorcock, Iain Sinclair, Jeanette Winterson, Lydia Lunch, Rudy Rucker, Greil Marcus, Mark Dery, Barney Hoskyns, R.U. Sirius, Margaret Wertheim, McKenzie Wark, Bill Viola, The Starn Twins, Joel Peter-Witkin, Louise Bourgeois, Mike Kelly, Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger. In 1996, Wired magazine commented that: “While most art mags cover the dead and the nearly dead of the art establishment, World Art plays with high-voltage wires in the rain… Young and experimental, this is the art forum to be in.”

Crawford also brokered the acquisition of 21•C from The Australian Commission For The Future for Gordon & Breach which gave the magazine an international focus and allowed him to publish original work by such well-known writers as J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, Kathy Acker, Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, Mark Dery, Andrew Ross, R.U. Sirius, Claudia Springer, Margaret Wertheim, Theodore Roszak, McKenzie Wark and Erik Davis.

Designed by Christopher Waller and, later, by Andrew Trevillian, Neuromancer author William Gibson was inspired in 1997 to proclaim that: “21•C is, flat out, the best looking and most determinedly eclectic pop-futurological publication in the world.” While J.G. Ballard proclaimed the magazine a “brilliant collection of articles that read like news bulletins from the future.”

However, after the team moved to Amsterdam, in 1999 Gordon & Breach closed their doors. Returning to Australia, Crawford was offered the position of Executive Producer for a new tech start-up, ITVWorld.com in Sydney. An on-line digital video and audio broadcast company, ITV produced original entertainment, business and finance content for such clients as Telstra (Australia’s largest telco), Microsoft, Ozemail (then Australia’s largest e-mail service), optus@home and ninemsn. The position involved direct liaison with clients, production of video and audio programs for transmission via the Internet, establishing the creative team and overseeing the development of the website and corporate identity. Due to bandwidth issues the company fast proved to be untenable for its time and Crawford accepted an invitation from long-term 21•C contributor Mark Dery to take on the role of Executive Editor at Artbyte magazine in New York to overhaul the look and content of the magazine for re-launch in 2001. This included employing new staff, generating a new body of contributors and overseeing a new design approach. Contributors secured included Rick Poynor, Simon Reynolds, Mike Davis, Richard Kadrey, Steven Shaviro, Paul Miller (DJ Spooky), Bruce Sterling and Andrew Ross.

Crawford returned to Australia in 2003 and accepted the role of Commissioning Editor at Thames & Hudson Books. This involved the establishment of the New Arts series including books on Ricky Swallow, Adam Cullen, Lisa Roet, David Noonan and Linda Marrinon and the overview of New Media Arts, Interzone by Darren Tofts. He also accepted the position of Editor of Photofile magazine, published by the Australian Centre for Photography.

In 2006 Crawford was bestowed the Skin Name Ngarridj of the Yirridjdja moiety by Traditional Owner Donald Gumurdul (deceased 2013) at Gunbalanya, Arnhem Land. Crawford had first visited in the region in 1998 with artists David Larwill, Peter Walsh and Mark Schaller to help raise awareness about the then-proposed uranium mine in Kakadu National Park. He has returned regularly, helping organize artists’ camps with then-director of 24HR Art in Darwin, Steve Eland. Travelling with artists has become a regular event and encompassed America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Since 1985 Crawford has also regularly worked as a curator, including overseeing shows at The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne and the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, Monash University Gallery, Melbourne, the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, the TarraWarra Biennial, the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, as part of the Adelaide Festival 2016, Adelaide, the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Darwin and the White Night Festival, Melbourne. He was also the co-founder, in 2010, with artists Sam Leach and Tony Lloyd of the hybrid art fair |not|fair| (www.notfair.com.au)

In 2013 Crawford was offered a full-time PhD Scholarship by the University of Melbourne. This led him to secure a Doctorate in Philosophy in 2016 which was short-listed for the Chancellors Award that year. He rewrote his PhD to have it published by Palgrave MacMillan, New York, as Dark Gnosis: Religious Imaging in Millennialist America (2018).