Pat Hanly was born at Palmerston North, New Zealand in 1932. He was central to a group of artists who revitalised art in New Zealand in the second half of the 20th century. His work ranged from the personal to social and political issues.
An amateur artist grandfather encouraged the boy's interest in drawing however in 1946 Hanly began a four-year hairdressing apprenticeship, also 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.
In 1957 Hanly travelled to London, where he attended night classes at Chelsea School of Art. 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. 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 Hanly's returned to New Zealand in 1962 and 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 many public commissions, including St George's Church, Takapuna (1962); large murals for Auckland Airport (1978) and the Christchurch Town Hall; the University of Auckland School of Architecture (1982); and the Aotea Centre's Convention Centre, Auckland (1990). Long associated with the anti-nuclear movement, Hanly was a foundation member of the Auckland Peace Squadron and keen anti-apartheid protestor.
Hanly's luminous, life-affirming works from early in his career had series titles such as Pacific Ikons, Figures in Light and New Order. In the late 1960s he "discovered" physics, prompting his Molecular series 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. Family life and his wife and muse Gil, were also important themes in Hanly's work. Hanly died in Auckland in 2004.