1960 was a pivotal year for Pat Hanly (1932 - 2004), with the emigre artist producing what would be his first cohesive series, Fire on Earth. Painted in London, three from the series were featured in a group exhibition at the pioneering Gallery One in London's Soho, a new exhibition space for emerging artists with radical ideas and practices. 60 years later, Gow Langsford presents these same three principle works, exhibited for the first time in New Zealand. They are contextualised alongside two paintings which exemplify later bodies of work: Figures in Light and Pacific Frigate, demonstrating the artist's lifelong dedication to the development of key motifs, colours, and above all, his unswerving political conscience.
Having moved to the UK in 1957, Hanly and his wife Gil were thrust into the midst of the insidious terror created by the Cold War. With titles reflecting the constant and growing threat of nuclear warfare driving audience reception of the works, we can see the paintings as a personal response to the political climate. Yet, despite their apocalyptic subject matter, the paintings are serene; beautiful in their lyrical rhythm and composition, and uplifting in their expressionist use of colour.
The three Fire in Light paintings anticipate Hanly's commitment to an exuberant palette of warm reds, oranges, yellows, juxtaposed often with richly oceanic blues and greens, which he would explore more on his return to Aotearoa just two years later. The pairing of the 1960s works with Nuclear Free Pacific (1984) illustrates this chromatic devotion clearly, combining the inferno of Fire Above the City with the Eden greens of Hope of Paradise. By looking at Hope of Paradise from this perspective, it reveals the triangular dwelling-like formations in the foreground as forerunners to Hanly's later Frigate paintings.
Similarly, Golden Age (1981) shares chromatically in the exhibition, and while the subject matter of nude figures is resoundingly different from the other four works, it too reflects a desire for and celebration of a Pacific utopia. Where the Fire on Earth and Nuclear Free Pacific paintings deal to an immediate threat of nuclear interference, either military or for energy, the Golden Age series reflected a newly found period of social harmony in New Zealand. In a 1981 artist statement Hanly explained: "all races in harmony, love, live despite greed and wars. Birds sing, stars appear, moon and sun shine, colours glow and love goes on."