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Our Man In Black

Thursday, March 1, 2012

As art critic for the NZ Herald, he has been covering burgeoning art scene for 45 years. In that time, he has witnessed and chronicled contemporary art in New Zealand from its nascence, through its troubled (and arguably ongoing adolescence) to its present age.

His first article (a review of the Society of Arts Festival) appeared in the Herald on 11 May 1966 and, over the next four decades, the initials TJMcN have appeared in the by-line of more than 2000 features and columns.

When he started out, there were just two contemporary art galleries in Auckland: New Vision and Barry Lett Galleries. In his first decade of reviews, he covered exhibitions by Philip Clairmont, Theo Schoon, Milan Mrkusich and Gordon Walters and of course, Colin McCahon.

There are now more than 20 new exhibitions opening in any given week across the city and TJ makes a concerted effort to get to and write about as many of them as possible. The task is daunting considering the potential parking fines alone.

He takes his role as envoy between contemporary art and the public seriously, writing concisely, accessibly and very specifically for a newspaper audience.

In a 2006 interview with Arts Editor Linda Herrick he explains: “There are two types of critics – some live alongside artists, they go to the studios, they talk, they belong to a circle and they can have great insights. But I am writing for a daily paper. I sort of see myself as a representative of the person who goes into the gallery. I have always written my response to what’s on the wall.”

His weekly column has been the cause of both anticipation and dread for several generations of aspiring artists and, in his 75th year, TJ McNamara shows no sign of letting them off the hook any time soon.

TJ McNamara on the Arts appears in Section B, Weekend Herald.

TJ Sara Hughes 2006. Picture / Brett Phibbs c/o NZHerald

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