Mick Hanley  Documentary Artist

Ever since I can remember painting and drawing came naturally to me. My earliest images were paintings of the red sandstone cliffs on the coast where we lived in Paignton. These grass-topped headlands are striking with their reds against the blues of the sea and the sky. They became an obsession, easy to paint again and again, vertical pictures in big bold shapes. I can’t remember painting anything else apart from steam engines.

I've always been fascinated with buildings and landscapes, but rarely if ever with figures. (As a naturally shy person I find the intense scrutiny of observing the human form or face unnerving). Living by the seaside, I've always enjoyed the kind of vernacular buildings and primary colours of kiosks, piers and cafes. These elements appeared in 1960s pop art which was a great influence in my art school years. And of course food figures in my work. I love bright colours and lettering and I still love pop artifacts like toys and packaging. Lettering on buildings and objects like these is a constant delight. My paintings of 'Cheapskates', 'Flying Saucers', 'Refreshments' and the recent 'Marianne' (2018) show this continuing interest. People like to 'read' paintings where lettering is part of the image.

Slow No 5
oil on canvas 1981

Most artists are indebted to their teachers - I am not alone in this. I was very privileged to have Alan Shaw as my teacher whenI was a teenager. His wonderful teaching and his culture and intellect was a great inspiration to me, and I was lucky to have him as a life long friend.

Oman village
oil on canvas  1991 91
I studied at Newton Abbot College of Art, Portsmouth College of Art, and Reading University and gained my Diploma in Art and Design in Fine Art Painting and Film-making in 1970.

I never lost my interest in railways, although when I went to art college in Portsmouth at the very end of steam, looking at old technology was thought to be very backward looking in the new world of ‘white heat’ technologies. There was an unspoken influence to look forward to the bright new age of primary coloured pop art or American abstraction. Industrial archaeology and heritage steam was only in its infancy, grimy old metal machines and wooden architecture had had its day and was only fit for museums. Instead, at art college, I concentrated on the phenomenon of the Space Race which was at its zenith in the late 1960’s.

Cheapskates detail 1998.jpg
Cheapskates 2 
watercolour  1998

Since my college days I’ve been drawn to old buildings and vernacular architecture. The first building that made me aware of the vulnerability of architecture was Deller’s Cafe in Paignton. This famous art nouveau inspired building was the centre of social life in the town and much loved. Unfortunartely it demolished in 1965, an appalling act of vandalism. My friend John and I managed to collect a few bits and pieces while it was being torn down, and eventually I painted a watercolour of it for my parents.

I discovered documentary films at college and found the records of everyday life on film very rewarding. I’ve always considered my work to be documentary, a record of buldings and places. During my working life many of the places I've painted have changed for one reason or another and unwittingly much of my work has become a record, a document, of vanished or altered buildings and landscapes. I don't really want to label myself but 'documentary artist' seems to be an apt and useful description.

.IMG_20190308_0002_El Plaza Nogales Mexi
El Plaza Cafe  Nogales  Mexico
oil on canvas 1981

From my earliest days I've been aware of the frailty of human structures - this goes back to my earliest years in the early 1950s when there were still bomb sites in cities like Plymouth. Their melacholic broken silhouettes were  frightening and deeply impressive to me as a 4-5 year old.

Only recently I discovered a generic term for my interest in decaying structures like these - 'Ruinenlust' - a German word for a passion for ruins. The colours and textures of ruins have been a source of  fascination to such diverse characters as Brunel, the artists John Piper and Paul Nash, and even the Nazi architect Albert Speer. Some installations at Cape Canaveral became abandoned and derelict within a very few years of their use.

Marianne Helsinki 2018.JPG
Marianne Helsinki
oil on linen  2018

In my early teens I was very interested in building and painting plastic kits, especially aeroplanes. It wasn’t the fighting aspect of planes that fascinated me but their camouflage and markings, which were an intriguing combination of colour aiming to conceal or deceive (precisely what trompe l’oeil painting aims to do) and markings designed to shout out individual identities –

a paradox: on the one hand wanting to conceal an identity and on the other needing to clarify an identity.

Little London 1 (Peak Freans)
watercolour for Jacobs Island Co /
Worshipful Company of Chartered Surveyors Property Marketing Awards 1992

My career in architectural illustration started with Kennedy Brookes plc in 1984 and consolidated with work for Jacobs Island Company plc in London's Docklands. In the mid 1980s I worked for various design companies in Europe, for Kesmi Design in Munich, Pleiad SA in Paris, Porta SA in Lisbon, and Mahmoudieh Design in Berlin and Hamburg, among others.

From 1989 to 2013 I was Court Artist specialising in architecture for the Diwan of the Royal Court in Muscat, the Sultanate of Oman. I visited Oman in 1990 to research buildings and landscapes.


In 1999 I was appointed first Artist-in-Residence at the Suzuki Convention in Snowmass, Colorado. I was also Artist-in-Residence at the annual Suzuki Flute Summer School in Seaford, Sussex in 2001.

Since being 'ghosted' by my agent in 2013 (for no good reason I can think of!) I'm no longer dependent on commissioned work. Now I'm working on my own images, and going through my huge library of photos to rediscover images from my past. I'm using larger canvases, as large as I can fit in my new garden studio!

IMG_20190302_0011_NEW Red mullet and chi
Red Mullet with Fennel and Chillies
crayon 1986


Many people misunderstand artists' use of photographs. Photos can be used in many different ways for many different reasons. Artists use them to enhance their experience of looking at the world, to explore the character of the medium and how it can alter our vision, or simply as a shorthand note to aid the memory.

Despite the appearance of some of my paintings, they're not photographic reproductions; while they often use some of the visual effects of photgraphic images. I realise now that they're primarily selective memories of my experiences of travel, of time and place. I’ve never been a slave to the photographic image but I use them in many ways: photos as starting points, as aide memoires, triggers for remembering specific experiences, or as quick visual notes, recording a small detail in passing perhaps. I like how photos distort reality and I sometimes use this in my painting.

I admire the work of documentary photographers such as Eric de Mare, Hilla and Bernd Becher, and David Plowden, among others, who are uncompromising in their vision of buildings and landscape. Their work is primarily black and white which has its own beauty. I wish I could be restrained and use just black and white but my natural instinct is to use colour - I can't help it bursting out!

For the record I’ve used Canon 35mm SLRs, a Bronica 645, and a Nikon F3 film SLR, and digitally a big Lumix DSLR. Now I use a nice solid Olympus E5 with a couple of Olympus lenses. I’m not a great camera buff – I just want a reliable camera that produces good quality images.

Dutch Banana Eclair
watercolour 1981
Fuller House  Newton Abbot
watercolour 1982
Oman wadi
oil on canvas  1992
IMG_20190308_0007_NEW Refreshments No 1
watercolour 1984

Other activities

I was formerly a Fellow of the Society of Industrial Illustrators, FSAI, but gave this up as my architectural illustration was overtaken by computer-aided design in the late 1990s.

I volunteered to become a Parish Councillor for our village St Erth in 2003 and was elected Chairman in 2017-8; I retired in 2020. My primary interest was in improving the quality of life in the village; with my experience in buildings and design I was particularly concerned with the quality of building design, and with transport matters. It has also been necessary for the community to defend iitself against insensitive plans, against a proposed heliport, and to mitigate the effects of the larger developments foisted it. I tried to bring my experience of working abroad to the council but this often met with puzzlement - how can other countries do things better than we can?


Tower House  Little London 3
Jacobs Island Co  London
watercolour 1992
Mick Hanley    Documentary Realist Artist and Designer

If you would like to contact me:        mickozone21@gmail.com                   01736 756009

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