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Revolution – Paul Hartigan

Nick Archer

Visual Arts


Tinakori Gallery
42 Victoria St
July 26 – August 11
You might not know the name Paul Hartigan, but chances are you’ve seen one of his works. When you walk down Lambton Quay and pass the Occidental Bar on the corner of Lambton Quay and Ballance Street, look up and you will see some interesting neon lights. Titled Whipping the Wind (1987) these lights fill 10 windows on a turret on the Sybase Building (formerly Landcorp House) and are green and red, flicking on and off in perfect timing. Unfortunately the artist who created them is not exactly fond of the work due to the bureaucracy of the city council and how the installation of the work was carried out, but that is a different story….
This story instead started when I wandered into Tinakori Gallery on Victoria Street, opposite the police station. I was thankful I was not driving anywhere. Instead the only red and blue lights I saw were the ones I saw among others, while I sipped from a glass of wine, Paul Hartigan lead a small group of us around his exhibition.
With Revolution, well-known national pop artist Paul Hartigan presents his first exclusively Neon show in 20 years. Here Hartigan has selected artists and individual works from New Zealand and international art history (ranging from Mrkusich, Driver and Daspher to Duchamp, Mondrian and Len Lye) and used Neon works to emulate some of their given works. What he has done here is taken some of the art by these giants of the art world and reproduced the essence, form and brush strokes and allowed their vibrancy to glow with the neon lights.
One I just looked at for ages while wishing I had $16,500 was Revolution XIII (The Robinson), 2007. This is a black circle background with white spirals with a red centre. I remarked to Hartigan that even if students who might read this review can’t afford any of his works, at least they can go to somewhere like Lighting Direct and buy some materials and make their own inspired lights to walk down the hallway in their flat on the way to the toilet at 3am on a Sunday morning illuminated by pure Neon splendour….
But what makes Hartigan’s works here special and hard to replicate is the artistic ambition he managed to achieve by meticulously replicating strong use of line and colour from the artistic works he selected. Here he’s merged abstract expressionism and colourfied abstraction. If you stand there and stare into these glowing lights eventually you might consciously feel the form, ideas and artistic ideas of the original artists. The colours and intensity of Julian Daspher and Marcel Duchamp will become apparent after a while. Even if you feel like someone who cannot even see things like the hidden images in Magic Eye books, then don’t despair, you will be experiencing something even though you won’t be able to talk about it.
This was not art to be pontificated on, but works to be experienced, and as we went around each lighting masterpiece, Hartigan pointed out some finer details. One intriguing thing was that he actually designed some of the art works to look good when they are turned off and daylight is filling the room it happens to be in.
I eventually slipped out of the door, illuminated to the fact that neon lights are not just about massage parlours, dive cafes and the Marlboro Man, but also about high art. Pondering this as I drifted through the night and trudged back up the brightly lit streets to the Salient office, I could notice other artistic lighting, from the red glow of Katipo Café to the giant lightbulbs sticking out from the Majestic Tower. I began to try to sense meaning from the glow that few of us consciously notice as we stagger around on a Sunday morning. Eventually I returned to the uninspired florescent lights of the Student Union Building. But art is about life, and the spark that flicks backwards and forwards hundreds of times per second above my head as I sit at the computer is about my life!