Paul Hartigan

Spring

1970
liquitex on canvas
2400mm x 1200mm

Note: This work was executed on the reverse side of an unfinished painting by Tom Kreisler, from his Coat series. The unfinished painting carries the inscription IT'S ALL A LOAD OF FUCKING CRAP, written in brushpoint by Tom Kreisler. Tom Kreisler gifted the unfinished canvasåÊto Paul Hartigan so that it could be used to make a new painting.
Provenance

Collection of Clare and Mervyn Wrathall, Whakatane.
Acquired from Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, 1970.

Exhibitions

Taranaki Review, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, 1970.

Literature

“Picture of a Spring.” Taranaki Daily News, July 11, 1970. Don Abbott, Vivid: The Paul Hartigan Story (Auckland: RF Books, 2015), 29.

Essay

At first sight it may seem simple and exuberant, but Paul Hartigan’s Spring is unparalleled in New Zealand art. It was painted in 1970 by a young artist intent on pla...

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Estimate $7,000 - $12,000
Achieved $11,138.75

Paul Hartigan

Spring

1970

liquitex on canvas

2400mm x 1200mm


Note: This work was executed on the reverse side of an unfinished painting by Tom Kreisler, from his Coat series. The unfinished painting carries the inscription IT'S ALL A LOAD OF FUCKING CRAP, written in brushpoint by Tom Kreisler. Tom Kreisler gifted the unfinished canvasåÊto Paul Hartigan so that it could be used to make a new painting.

Auction N˚4

Estimate $7,000 - $12,000

Achieved $11,138.75

Spring

by Don Abbott

At first sight it may seem simple and exuberant, but Paul Hartigan’s Spring is unparalleled in New Zealand art. It was painted in 1970 by a young artist intent on placing his work in an international context, and on engaging with the intellectual arguments surrounding art at the time. Its subject matter is a direct link to Andy Warhol’s use and advocacy of industrial processes to manufacture art. Its execution is akin to Roy Lichtenstein’s treatment of the gun on the cover of TIME magazine in 1967, cartoon-like, free of context and shaded with Ben-Day dots. Its arrangement resembles the primary structure sculptures of Donald Judd, a series of white shelves that Hartigan connects through his spring mechanism. It is a highly stylised, graphical rendition of an object, which does not attempt literality. The painting is a melding of pop, abstract and minimalist art.

Spring looks like it came from somewhere else, but the local influences are unmistakable. Three New Plymouth artists make their presence felt on this work, as they did on the young Hartigan. Tom Kreisler, his art teacher at New Plymouth Boys High School, is there on the back—on the verso of Spring is an unsuccessful unfinished painting by Kreisler, who recycled the canvas and gave it to his student. The spring itself could have come from amongst the pitchforks and tarpaulins found in the workshop of Don Driver, whom Hartigan had met at New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Finally, the canvas was painted in a studio that Michael Smither made available to the young artist.

A cool wit provides the foundation for the work. Playing with public expectations of an artwork entitled Spring, Hartigan presents heavy industry rather than blossoming nature. These two have something in common—the half compressed spring threatens to uncoil, hinting at the change that is about to happen when it goes off, like the explosion of leaves, blossoms and life that occurs at the end of winter. It could also be a portrait of frustrated adolescence, painted by a young man for whom adulthood could not come fast enough. When interviewed by the local newspaper, his cool detachment was worthy of, if not learned from, Warhol: “There’s no great moral theme behind this, there’s no message—it’s just a painting of a steel spring.”

Nor would Hartigan let the viewing public mistake his machine image for anything other than what it was: “It is not a painting related to people and human emotions. It is a painting of the thing itself—the spring.”

If the forty-six-year career of Paul Hartigan were a story, Spring would appear on or near page one. The work embodies the themes and concerns that have sustained him over the years: colour, line, wit and attitude. It was exhibited just once, as part of the Taranaki Review at the Govett-Brewster in 1970, and remains as fresh and astounding today as it was back then.