Lion Rock, Piha
91 x 91 cm
Provenance: Purchased by current owner fromRKS Art, 1974
Lion Rock, Piha is an exuberant example of the artist's 1970s period of abstraction. Here, Hanly's visceral treatment of paint is concentrated on the impressive rock formation which lies between Piha and North Piha beaches, while the sky and coastline are relegated to minor roles.
At the time of painting this work, a decade had passed since the artist's return to New Zealand from Europe. This time of reintegration had been vital for Hanly as he looked to develop a language of abstraction appropriate to the New Zealand landscape. In his own words, he was trying to talk about the roughness of New Zealand, its newness and crispness and those physical things. Discovering the physicality of abstract expressionism was key to this. We meet it in the spirited energy of this work, which he built up through thick impastoed layers of colour and spattered paint. There is boldness of texture, with bright colours forced together in an elemental and clashing union.
Lion Rock is an icon of New Zealand scenery, and it is interesting to draw the lines between previous depictions of this landform and Hanly's painting. Take, for example, the early 20th century work of the same name by Edward Fristrom. Here the form is clearly integrated with the land, linked in photographic likeness. Charles Tole's Untitled (Landscape) of 1968 is a modern example which goes one step further in offering a cubist fragmentation of this scene. Considered alongside these artistic forebears, Hanly's engagement with this volcanic landmass becomes even louder in its visual disruption. The work surpasses any act of reproductive observation to explore the essential qualities of the rock.
Formed from a volcano which erupted 16 million years ago, Lion Rock's Maori name is Te Piha, which translates as the bow wave and refers to the wave-like patterns of erosion on the rock face. This history of natural force and fiery explosion is captured in the joyous vibration of Hanly's painting.