Paul Hartigan

7 X's 8 O's

ink on found paper
316mm x 510mm

inscribed 7 X’s 8 O’s in ink; signed HARTIGAN and dated 1979 in graphite lower right


Private collection, Auckland.


Paul Hartigan’s practice represents an ongoing exploration of the possibilities of line. In much of his painting and drawing, the integrity of the line is brought into questio...

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Estimate $1,500 - $2,500
Achieved $2,642.75

Paul Hartigan

Against the Grain


ink and watercolour on paper

signed Hartigan, dated 1980 and inscribed ‘AGAINST THE GRAIN’ in graphite lower edge

600mm x 910mm

Auction N˚6

Estimate $3,200 - $4,600

Achieved $3,964.13

  1. Although Disney contributors were uncredited at the time, Carl Barks brought a unique fluency of drawing and storytelling ability to the Donald Duck titles that set him apart from his contemporaries. Near the end of his life, he began to be recognised as one of the most important and influential children’s comics artists of the 20th century.
  2. Interview with the artist, 14 June, 2017.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism (University of Michigan Press: 1969), 20.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Interview with the artist, 14 June, 2017.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Andre Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism (University of Michigan Press: 1969), 26.
  9. Don Abbot, Vivid: The Paul Hartigan Story (Auckland: RF Books, 2015), 110.

Ghost Drawing

by by Andrew Clark

Paul Hartigan’s practice represents an ongoing exploration of the possibilities of line. In much of his painting and drawing, the integrity of the line is brought into question, placed under stress, and ultimately reconfigured. This fertile avenue of inquiry is a constant in Hartigan’s work, present from the time of his art school paintings such as The Phantom through to his later neon works and his current digital explorations.

Hartigan credits “not being middle class” with the freedom to consume popular culture he had as a child: “I didn’t have a mother or father—I didn’t even have a father—going ‘Hey! You’re not reading those comics!’”1 He remembers having “piles of comic books” as a child, namedropping many of the popular titles of the 1950s and ‘60s: Richie Rich, Little Lotta, Dagwood, The Phantom and especially Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge.2 For Hartigan, the crucial feature of these comics was their mechanically reproduced nature, and their use of basic offset printing to achieve colour. Hartigan remembers being fascinated by what he calls the “ghost drawing” effect produced by the mis-registration of the different plates, resulting in hazy, optically dense fields of colour that spill over the black outlines of the comic, rendering the border permeable and ambivalent.

The offset “ghost drawing” that Hartigan observed in comics would become a core element of his practice. In paintings such as Myopic Blueprint (1983) the blurry boundaries of mis-registered colour separations are replicated by the coloured “halo” surrounding each black line. Conceptually, these delicate shreds of colour are an extension of the idea of the offset slipping, as is the nimbus of light cast by the neon tubes in works such as Colony (2004). The “ghost line” is ambivalent, both in nature and appearance. It is a mechanical byproduct of the commercial printing process, an unintentional machine error that, by some subterranean process of transmutation, becomes a mark of imperfection—a human mark. Hartigan’s approach to mark-making emulates the mechanical line, but with the understanding that this act of replication will always be subtly imperfect. In early paintings, such as The New Flag and The Phantom (both 1973), Hartigan softens the hard outlines of his flat planes of enamel by allowing the paint to run, in what he refers to as a process of “accidental drawing” that functions to replicate the mechanistic, random nature of the misregistered print. Even the neon works, with their seemingly perfectly fabricated surfaces, are the products of improvisation and circumstance: although complex “knot” works such as Mondion (2010) are made to a design, the exigencies of bending the hot glass mean that compromises and improvisational solutions always play a part in their final form.

It is noteworthy that the international outlook that characterises Hartigan’s practice stems from a childhood experience of consuming the emerging American popular culture as it came into New Zealand, rather than from approaching these materials later, as an adult. Hartigan is, in a sense, a “native speaker” of the language of comics, advertisements, magazines and mass media, and thus it was natural that this material would form the basis of his art practice. At art school, rather than engaging with the existing New Zealand landscape tradition that, by the 1970s, was already beginning to show serious cracks, Hartigan painted what he knew: the Phantom and the STP petrol logo.