Paul Hartigan


Paul Hartigan
Production date:
Accession No:
12,000 x 9000mm

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

Paul Hartigan’s Pathfinder has become an iconic symbol of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and is a well known sight for Taranaki locals. Commissioned by the Gallery to complement the 1997 building extension project, Hartigan’s work has become fully embedded in the Govett-Brewster’s visual identity, greeting visitors and passers-by with its syncopated inscriptions in glowing neon. Originally installed on exterior walls that were painted primary red, yellow and blue, Pathfinder was conceived as a tribute to the influence of Len Lye. As in Lye’s ‘scratch’ films, the neon seemed to etch with white light into the brightly coloured surfaces of the walls. Now a crisp white-on-white, Pathfinder energises the Gallery’s elegant monochrome with its rhythms of the urban street.

Like a hybrid of graffiti and commercial neon signage, Pathfinder talks in the graphic language of city culture. Hartigan uses neon to literally draw with light, producing offbeat, hieroglyphic forms that retain the immediacy and vitality of a gestural drawing. Pathfinder boogies across the Gallery walls with an energy and drift that recalls the improvisations of free jazz. Hartigan liberates neon from its traditional commercial imperative. Unlike advertising’s hustle to persuade or demand, Hartigan’s neon is allowed to exist as the glowing trace of a spontaneous mark. However, the liquid line of the neon, with its corona of light, retains the seductive directness of advertising, acting as a beacon announcing the presence of the Gallery.

The title ‘Pathfinder’ reflects the Govett-Brewster’s dedication to stimulating new directions in contemporary art and also refers to the role of an artist in developing a new creative language. While Pathfinder is a firmly established feature of the Gallery’s architecture during daily operations, it has an additional nocturnal life. Constantly changing in response to different light levels at different times of day, Pathfinder has a restless, flexible quality that keeps it open to new possibilities and associations.