Artist interview: Patrick Hartigan - Art Collector

5 September 2011

Currently showing at Greenaway Art Gallery in Adelaide, Patrick Hartigan talks to Australian Art Collector about his latest series of paintings and what he finds so fascinating about middle-aged faces.

Patrick Hartigan, Sisters, 2010. Oil on canvas, 72.5 x 70.5cm. Courtesy: the artist; Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide; and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.


Your current exhibition is called Mother’s Birthday. Why this day? And what was the starting point for this body of work?

The title of the exhibition was taken from one of the earlier portrait works I had painted and then re-painted almost a year later.

Like a lot of the other portraits I was to paint, it was derived from a family snapshot from the 1950s. However, unlike most of the other images I have encountered from this time there seemed to be a psychologically ambiguous quality in the closeness of the two heads (mother and daughter). It was this quality which I attempted to tease out in the paintings.

This exhibition actually brings together paintings from the past two to three years.

The starting point was possibly a work entitled
Woman which was first shown in an exhibition I had in 2009 called The Village Is Quiet (at Darren Knight Gallery) which drew on the time I have spent in my wife's village of birth in Slovakia over the past seven years.

Above right: Patrick Hartigan, Mother's birthday (first version), 2010. Oil on canvas board,
25 x 20cm. Courtesy: the artist; Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide; and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.



In your artist statement, you talk about the woman in the old snapshots you use as source material as having specific emotional qualities. Could you talk a little more about this & what you see in these photos?

I was referring to images specifically from the 1940s and 1950s. I found an intriguing tension between the female subject's vulnerability on the one hand and toughness or stoicism on the other.

This brings to my mind some of the female characters in Patrick White's novels.



Patrick Hartigan, Mothers of 1-3, 2009. Oil on board, 3 parts, each 18.5 x 12cm. Courtesy: the artist; Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide; and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.


Most of the works feature older women, which I find interesting because they generally don’t get all that much airtime. Was age something you were aware of when you were working on these paintings?

I was interested in the specific emotions which shape faces; older faces usually reveal this more explicitly.

I am particularly interested in middle-aged women's faces for the way they manifest a certain malleability which I associate with a letting go of things. I think that there's a strange, underrated beauty to be found in a woman's face at this juncture.


Right: Patrick Hartigan, Mother and child, 2010. Oil on linen, 33 x 27.5cm. Courtesy: the artist; Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide; and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.




Painting seems to be your preferred medium these days. To ask a devil’s advocate question, why have you settled on this medium? What does it give you that other mediums don’t?

I'm not sure if I have settled really. Painting has been, and continues to be, central to my process but I continue to enjoy working across different media.

Painting is a more visceral medium than others and therefore feels more suited to the mess and complexities of people.



You’ve shown regularly in New Zealand too. What’s the connection there?

I visited the South Island of New Zealand many years ago after seeing some Laurence Aberhart photographs of Southland.

I later showed my work in Dunedin (with Brett McDowell) and even lived there for a year recently.

I have an ongoing interest in New Zealand art.



Patrick Hartigan, Woman, 2009. Oil on board, 49 x 40cm. Courtesy: the artist; Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide; and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney.


You graduated from art school in 2001. What would you say is the most important thing about art and art-making you’ve learnt in the 10 years since you left uni and started working as a professional artist?

It might be the need to remain open to new ideas and ways of working. I think I have a very low boredom threshold which forces me to avoid working habitually at all costs.

But I am discovering that painting alone is a vast wilderness to explore; the further you get in the bigger it becomes.



Jane O'Sullivan


Patrick Hartigan's current exhibition,
Mother's Birthday, continues at Greenaway Art Gallery in Adelaide until 18 September 2011.


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