Pat Hanly’s account of how he returned from Europe in the early 1960s, ostensibly en-route to Australia, only to be captured by en epiphany of light and colour and the condition of the country on Torbay beach, is probably well-known. But this rare screen from 1987 brings this moment back to mind with its powerfully and bright ground and its figures rendered in colour silhouettes
Hanly had started studying at Ilam School of Fine Arts in Christchurch but before completing his studies went to Europe and lived and worked London, Holland and Italy for four years. Returning in 1962, not to Christchurch, but to Auckland which he had never before visited, he discovered that things were more dynamic and supportive in the painting scene than he had expected. Here he found artists who showed “total commitment”; and he chose to stay rather than try to establish himself in the Australian scene where there were lots of artists of his own generation doing exciting things.
What emerged in those first few years in Auckland would shape the rest of his oeuvre. They were his high key, sun-bright palette of pacific colours; and what he described a whole condition, namely the “nation sitting around on its bum doing nothing” that would see itself expressed in his abstract expressionist motifs of the figure in the landscape. Later, and importantly for Vacation Screen, there emerged Hanly’s passionate protests against the thoughts and actions that had the potential to destroy life and beauty, most notably the way his actions and artworks took on the nuclear threat in the 1980s.
Vacation Screen, made in 1987, dates from the same year that this country’s nuclear free status passed into legislation. While its subject and forms bear a striking resemblance to the earlier Figures in Light series, there are still obvious references to Hanly’s nuclear protest paintings, especially in the flame-red ground and cinder-black figure in the right-hand panel; and in the sun-bright disk in the left hand column painted above and behind a red figure which could be interpreted as either seated on a beach or fleeing from a nuclear fire storm. As such, this masterful and vibrant screen painting reaches across several decades of Hanly’s practice and captures both the most celebratory and indolent moments of his early New Zealand works as well as the powerful legacy of his contribution to the anti-nuclear social and political movement that has set this country apart for more than 20 years.
Pat Hanly, Vacation Screen 1987, acrylic and enamel on three panel screen, 1845 x 1920mm
Previously published in Important Paintings and Contemporary Art, 25 November 2010, Art+Object the 21st Century Auction House, Auckland, pp42-43.