John Hurrell – 5 January, 2011
Partly figurative, partly abstract mandalas or calligraphy devised for contemplation, these images were not designed to be all seen in one room, though of course they are being experienced that way now.
The Seven Ages of Man
Catalogue essay by Andrew Clifford
3 December 2010 - 8 January 2011
In 1975 Pat Hanly was commissioned by Hamish Keith to create a seven part mural (enamel on board) for the School of Medicine‘s ‘Link’ building at Auckland University, one tall (almost floor-to-ceiling) panel for each of the seven floors. The project used as a starting point the concept of The Seven Ages of Man as described by Shakespeare in As You Like It - particularly in the ‘All the World’s a Stage’ speech, a text used by singers like Elvis Presley, painters like William Hogarth, and television shows like The Prisoner or Doctor Who.
In 2008 the panels were taken down to be restored when the building was altered, and now they are being toured by the Gus Fisher with some supplementary prints and small paintings. Hanly’s notion of life stages we can see via the imagery within the sections of mural. His approach is not as grim as Shakespeare’s - more Buddhist than Christian, and more ultimately positive. The sequence of seven levels (from birth to death) ascends in an upward directed stem and goes: Innocence Energy; Joy; Youth; Ego; Proud Worldly; Wisdom; Grace.
Compositionally he plays with symmetry in six of the vertical rectangles. Three on a vertical axis, three on a horizontal one. Partly figurative, partly abstract mandalas or calligraphy devised for contemplation, these images were not designed to be all seen in one room, though of course they are being experienced that way now. They were made it seems to be held in the mind so that when others in the series were bodily encountered in the same floor plan position (near the lifts) on other floors, they could be compared only in the viewer’s imagination. And that was difficult, for the sequence went asymmetrical; horizontal; horizontal; vertical; vertical; vertical; horizontal - an attempt apparently to complicate memory through an irregular series or pattern, a means to thwart methods of predictable comparison or correlation.
Taking the panels in isolation, my own personal favourites are the sloppier, messier images that are organic and highly ambiguous. Triangle eyed faces that are also fiery pelvises (Wisdom); green teary profiles perched on stacked up, lumpy lungs (Youth); zigzagging letters and popping crimson shrapnel spinning through the dark blue heavens (Ego). I think the shapes in Innocence Energy, Joy, Proud Worldly and Grace are really awkward in the way they interact internally, and are too tight. Only about half the panels work as paintings.
This is an interesting, unusual project to think about but it is not Hanly at his best. He had many much better moments in his career. These works should stay in a site similar to the one they were designed for - to be experienced there and only there.
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