Paul Hartigan: Stormy Sky
Auckland-based contemporary artist Paul Hartigan is New Zealand’s leading proponent of neon art. He is also one of New Zealand’s most significant makers of public art, widely recognised for his large-scale public light commissions, which have enhanced many of its urban spaces.
His spectacular neon monochrome Colony (2004), commissioned by the University of Auckland for the Faculty of Engineering on Symonds Street, was awarded Best Public Sculpture, Metro Magazine Awards in 2006.
Prior to Colony Hartigan was commissioned by Orion NZ Ltd in 2001 to transform the public face of an electricity substation in central Christchurch. Nebula Orion is the result, a large neon work that survived the earthquake of 2011 and continues to operate today.
Other major public installation include Pathfinder (1997), on the façade of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, Whipping the Wind (1988), located on a prominent corner of Lambton Quay in Wellington, near the Beehive, and Signal-Echo (2001), on the New Lynn Community Centre in West Auckland.
All these works demonstrate an intelligent and responsive engagement with the individual requirements of each site, and the architecture with which they interface. Each of these works is integrated with and extends the environment that hosts it, becoming a vital addition to not only the store of public art in each place, but to the streetscape, to the city’s amenities and its cultural wealth.
These grand installations aptly demonstrate both Hartigan’s adept artistic vision and the flexibility of the neon medium. Though respectful of neon’s history as a signage medium, Hartigan is not restricted by it, and uses this most urban of art media to create conceptually successful, publicly accessible installations that work day and night.
The Work of Art
Stormy Sky by Paul Hartigan is a mixed media work of art on paper created in 1993. The work depicts a landscape showing a bright sunlight valley set against dark forrested hills. ON one of the hills is a telephone tower which is contrasted by the mixture of dark stormy clouds. The work is all about contrasts. Paul is known for using bright colours in his work- particularly later in his career, neons. The effect is stunning as the picture could be that of a valley scene after a storm has passed.
Although this work is the only representative of Paul Hartigan's works in the University's Art Collection, it is however one of at least 5 works that depict storms or stormy landscapes. It is a subject matter that appeals to artists because of the richness in the play of light and shadow. Perhaps that is why most storms are depicted in art in landscapes. Leonardo di Vinci, Gainsborough, Constable and Turner create such dramatic scenes with the use of storms.
here is something theatrical, mythological and biblical about storms that draws artists to depict them. Many stories from the bible depict storms- Noah, Jonah, the storm on the Sea of Gallilee and the shipwrecking of St Paul on Malta. Artists would portray such stories in an age when most church-goers before the Renaissance were illiterate. Going further back, storms were seen as a manifestation of different Gods. In Egypt, storms, weather and chaos were the realm of Seth. In the near east, Baal was a storm god and of course, Zeus and Jupiter were depicted with bolts of lightning. Although storms have lost their spiritual and mythical aspects, their sheer power and effect will draw artists to them as subject matter in art, photography and film.