While Hanly is often associated with his large murals, such as the ones in Auckland’s Aotea Centre (1990) and Christchurch’s Town Hall (1971), and for his epic The Seven Ages of Man (1975) series (inspired by the “all the world’s a stage” monologue in Shakespeare’s As You Like It), he is often most compelling at his most intimate. Even then, this is art with a public message. Hanly’s art speaks of how important it is to be in the beauty of the now, and how we must protect this idea for future generations (reflecting his position as a prominent Greenpeace and anti-nuclear protestor, as well as a keen sailor). He is also trying to teach us how art can main-line directly into the power of love, to effect change. His work has the power to extend the innocence and hope of the 1970s (for as with all things, the Summer of Love was late to arrive in Aotearoa, down at the bottom of the world) into the present, when it is no less relevant.
As Auckland critic T. J. McNamara wrote in Hanly’s obituary for the New Zealand Herald: “To express what he saw he developed a special way of working that was part action painting and part tight form. Out of this emerged beautiful paintings of gardens and still lifes where the power streamed from flowers and figure studies that were filled with energy inside severe outlines. . .” I think, though, it is the drawings that allow us to appreciate this technique more, allowing those “severe outlines” to emerge and eloquently speak for themselves. They reveal that the diagram of bones and scaffolding under the flesh of the paintings is equally elegant and moving.