When Paul Hartigan first arrived in Auckland during 1968, Broadway, Newmarket’s main strip, was ablaze with neon signage, a visual overload of light and colour that captivated the young artist. In 1971, Hartigan conducted ‘The Great Neon Tour’ tracing Auckland’s best neon sights, starting from the corner of Emily Place and Customs St East and culminating with the glitz and glamour of Broadway.
The neon advertising that used to light our city skyline has greatly diminished over the last couple of decades, making way for new technology such as LEDs or plasma screens, or through companies opting for the now popular, restrained, minimalist aesthetic we have grown used to. The simplistic neon outlines may seem antiquated in the wake of technological advances, but for Hartigan, it’s enticing allure offers endless artistic opportunities.
During his time at Elam School of Fine Arts in the early 1970s, Hartigan began to develop a distinct style influenced by the international Pop Art movement. Drawing inspiration from pop culture and neon advertising, his colours and line were as bold and brash as the subjects they derived from. By 1980 Hartigan was constructing art out of neon tubing, generating a unique visual language of abstract shapes.
In 2004 Hartigan completed a site-specific neon commission for Auckland University’s Engineering Faculty on Symonds Street. Arguably Hartigan’s most significant work to date, Colony consists of clustered elements which morph from semi-figurative motifs to abstract-surrealist gestures. The title suggests a collection of related entities cohabiting in a newfound territory.
In September, Paul Hartigan will be bringing neon to Parnell, displaying a selection of domestically scaled neon artworks alongside H-type canvases and Ultrachrome prints in his exhibition Chromophobia at Artis Gallery. His recent, hand-turned neon reliefs take on two distinct forms. Hartigan’s ‘Revolutions’ are spiral constructions made of different coloured pieces of neon tubing where carefully considered hues come together in each work like the painted line of the Modernist masters.
His newest neons are less structured, twisted forms that reference the complexities of the organic world, internal organs, or even screwed up paper. These neon knots protrude from the wall with sculptural presence and the complexity of shape adds a depth and delicacy not often associated with the medium.
A renowned New Zealand artist, Paul Hartigan is known for his innovation and exploration of new media. His eagerly anticipated exhibition, Chromophobia, will be his first solo show in Auckland this decade.