Pat Hanly

Jester of modern New Zealand art
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The Independent Online

Pat Hanly was an artist and teacher who helped revitalise New Zealand art in the second half of the 20th century. His work ranged from the domestic and personal to that concerned with social and political issues.

James Patrick Hanly, artist and teacher: born Palmerston North, New Zealand 2 August 1932; married 1958 Gillian Taverner (one son, two daughters); died Auckland, New Zealand 20 September 2004.

Pat Hanly was an artist and teacher who helped revitalise New Zealand art in the second half of the 20th century. His work ranged from the domestic and personal to that concerned with social and political issues.

Hanly managed to put over any public message without the offputting glum drabness so often associated with agitprop artwork. His images - exuberant, colourful, feisty and humorous - reflected the personality of their maker - the serious, outspoken yet self-deprecating jester of modern New Zealand art, whose recreations in the New Zealand Who's Who are listed as "kite-flying, sailing, Greenpeace".

He gained a national reputation as a waterborne protester, yet remained the strictly non-textbook yachtsman who could not swim. At his memorial service, there was a "No Nuclear Ships" banner above the open coffin, which contained the lifejacket he would put before getting into his car to drive to the water in the expectation of yet another mishap.

One of Hanly's most notable at-sea encounters was when he took his small trailer-sailer out into Auckland harbour among the flotilla of vessels to protest against the arrival of the nuclear submarine Pintado. It prompted the 1970s picture Pintado Protest. Hanly's sailboats, which first appeared in his "Fire" series in the 1960s and reappear periodically in his work, are symbols of the freedom that he himself experienced on the water.

In July this year a Hanly work, Vessel Attacked, fetched NZ$90,000 (£32,000) at auction. Many artists would have been pleased, but not Hanly, who derided anyone who bought a painting for investment, declaring: "I hope it falls off the wall and kills them."

Pat Hanly was born in Palmerston North, North Island, in 1932. An amateur artist grandfather encouraged the boy's interest in drawing. His attempts to take up boxing and road cycling, at the urging of his father, both proved hilarious disasters.

Pursuing his parents' suggestion that he learn a useful skill, in 1946 Hanly began a four-year hairdressing apprenticeship, at the same time for three years attending evening classes under Allan Leary at Palmerston North High School. With Leary's encouragement Hanly in 1952 began a three-year Diploma of Fine Arts course at Canterbury University School of Fine Arts, where the artist and lecturer Bill Sutton proved a mentor and friend. Hanly proved a brilliant student, the centre of a group which included such future notable artists as Bill Culbert and Gillian Taverner, now a distinguished New Zealand photographer.

In 1957 she and Pat travelled to London, where he attended night classes at Chelsea School of Art and they married. The five years spent in Europe were important to Hanly. He gained several scholarships and grants, from the British Council and Italian and Dutch governments, although trips abroad were commonly on a shoestring budget. A QEII Arts Council Grant in 1980 took him to America.

While in London he exhibited at Gallery One, with the London Group, Royal Society of British Artists and Young Contemporaries, the Edinburgh Festival and the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition. He also had a first solo show at the Comedy Gallery in 1961.

The Hanlys returned to New Zealand, settling in Auckland, in 1962. That was the year of his first retrospective, at the Auckland Art Gallery. In 1963, he began work as a part-time lecturer in drawing at the University of Auckland School of Architecture, but this did not stop him being a prolific exhibitor in New Zealand and Europe.

Through his career, Hanly completed over a dozen commissions in churches and other public buildings. The first was at St George's Church, Takapuna (1962). Others included large murals for Auckland Airport (1978), the University of Auckland School of Architecture (1982), and the Aotea Centre's Convention Centre, Auckland (1990). As one long associated with the anti-nuclear movement, a foundation member of the Auckland Peace Squadron and keen anti-apartheid protestor, it was appropriate that he made the Peace Mural, at the corner of Karangahape and Ponsonby Roads, Auckland, in 1985.

Gradually, all the major municipal, provincial and private collections in New Zealand acquired work by Hanly, also foreign collections including the National Gallery of Australia and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in the Netherlands. In 1993, the Hanly Paintings Trust was formed.

Hanly's luminous, life-affirming works from early in his career had series titles such as "Pacific Ikons", "Figures in Light" and "New Order". A self-styled scientist, in the late 1960s he "discovered" physics, prompting his Molecular paintings, exploring the premise that matter was not exactly solid. The vibrant, lush "Garden" series drew inspiration from the surroundings of his home in Mount Eden, where his small backyard studio was situated.

There he would experiment with unusual materials such as enamel paints and recycle everyday materials as tools for his art. To one visitor admiring the technique used for a monoprint, he revealed that it was a rolled-up sock. Yet he was highly self-critical, destroying many works he considered unsatisfactory, occasionally buying them back to be altered or destroyed.

To Hanly, whose paintings "come hard and leave me hard", the after-life of his works was important. He wanted them to be enjoyed, not displayed as a status symbol.

Family life and the "Girl Asleep" series, based on his muse Gil, were important themes in Hanly's work. The Hanlys were the subject of Pacific Ikon, a television documentary screened in 1998. By then, he had been diagnosed from Hodgkinson's disease, the gradual loss of strength, weight and muscular control impairing his ability to paint.

In the film, with typical good- humour, he remarked, "We are awaiting death with interested anticipation. Some of my best friends are dead."

David Buckman