Hartigan’s early artistic career was defined by an international outlook that saw the young artist deeply influenced and inspired by the Pop Art movement in Britain and the United States. Attending Elam School of Fine Art in the 1970s, Hartigan was encouraged by his teachers such as Robert Ellis, Colin McCahon and Garth Tapper to incorporate the central tenets of regionalism into his artistic practice. However, Hartigan who has consistently maintained an international outlook chose to denounce the regionalism that coloured the New Zealand art scene and to establish an artistic dialogue with artists such as Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Allan Jones, Peter Blake and Jasper Johns. While Hartigan has continued to be classified as inherently “Pop,” and to absorb the connotations of superficial triviality, banality and the commonplace; these labels miss the finer, nuanced side of his work, much of which is undercut by astute social and political perceptions and a neatly subversive wit.
In the 1980s Hartigan was lured away from traditional painting methods by the energising potential of painting with neon light. This was a logical progression as Hartigan’s painting practice had been defined by distinct line rather than the modulation of form. Attracted to the celestial and almost transcendental properties inherent to the material, Hartigan’s first forays into the world of neon featured hieroglyphic forms, witticisms and patterned abstractions in a largely two‐dimensional capacity. These works seamlessly blurred the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art with their polished workmanship and prominent design aesthetic that was imbued with the ‘low’ art associations of graffiti, street art and the blinking advertisements of high density urban environments.
Paul Hartigan is represented in major collections throughout New Zealand including Te Papa Tongarewa, The Hocken and National Library, Auckland Art Gallery, Govett‐Brewster and Sarjeant Art Gallery. He exhibits with Artis Gallery in Auckland.