Rolf Harris might have been synonymous as a TV personality over the biggest part of five decades, best known for fronting programmes about art, famous artists, pets that need rescuing, and hospitals that save animals - as well as making a fair few appearances as a ‘pop star’ on BBC Top of the Pops after bothering the charts on and off in the 1970s/80s - yet all the time Harris has been equally productive away from the rolling cameras, immersed in his life-long passion for art.
Many people will first recount seeing Harris slapping as much paint as humanely possible on a giant canvas, whilst all the time providing a running commentary as to what he was doing and enquiring as to whether or not we had the foggiest what he was creating. This was usually conducted in front of a live (or pre-recorded) TV audience as either a guest on 80s chat shows, Saturday morning ‘yoof’ magazines or even his own show, ‘Rolf’s Cartoon Club’, which had a massive following back in the day.
HRH The Queen Sits For Rolf Harris Portrait
However Harris is a very well respected and universally admired artist in creative circles, has won numerous awards, exhibited far and wide and even painted the Queen’s portrait by way of commemorating HRH’s 80th birthday. Both his original works and prints sell out faster than they can be manufactured and he remains as much in demand artistically as he continues to be sought after in the world of light entertainment. Both of which have helped his meteoric rise to become recognised as a British institution and potential national treasure.
It’s this balance of the two ever presents in his adult life, that Harris has successfully managed to team on many an occasion, with programme makers keen to plunder his artistic wisdom, appreciation and personal activity in relation TV ratings winners; of which Harris has experienced a fair few to date. Especially never more so than his various stints on the BBC and specifically his acclaimed ‘Rolf on Art’ series that looked at the old masters and other household name artists, and went one further by exploring the techniques that they were famed for as part of a Harris master-class played out right there in our living rooms.
Avoiding the singular label, Harris’s work has been referred to by many genres over the decades, from figurative to contemporary to modern impressionism, yet Harris’s work effortlessly and unpretentiously transcends all of the above, as does the subject matters that he’s committed to canvasses (large and small) hitherto. Landscapes, portraits and studies of wildlife have all featured prominently in Harris’s back catalogue of collections and unique compositions, again making it virtually impossible to pigeon-hole Harris the artist.
Rolf Harris’s Trademark Busy TV Canvasses Countered by Considered Modern Impressionism
Harris’s signature flourishes, to the mind of those that caught regular glimpses of him on TV 30 years ago, were combatant, gregarious, almost schizophrenic splatterings of colours strewn glibly across an oversized canvas, after the far-from-delicate brush was wedged wholesale into a vat of paint, to seemingly re-emerge caked in blocks of colour. This monstrous application might well have been conducted with an axe, so we thought as the process panned out, yet it would then, miraculously over a period of minutes form what in the event were enigmatic, evocative, hugely stylish compositions of epic proportions, that prosaic detailing would confirm was a painting of the Sydney Opera House. Or Ayers Rock. Devastatingly simple, visually arresting. Yet observing Harris’s non-televised works which characterized the Australian best as an artist, and it was far weightier, considered pieces, lost in the fabric of layers and dimensions that told subtler stories, courtesy of delicate administering of materials. Studies that reflected an artist, who had lived, loved and laughed as well as travelled and absorbed his surroundings.
Rolf Harris Was Named UK’s Best-Selling Published Artist
Harris was born in Perth in Western Australia in 1930, and moved to London at the age of 22 to attend art college and hopefully follow in the footsteps of his Grandfather who had made a living as a portrait painter. But all those best laid plans went out of the window when a young, impressionable Harris met with fellow Australian painter, 'Bill' Hayward Veal, and was subsequently taken under his creative wing. Despite gaining exposure for his paintings through the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibitions – and many plaudits – at roughly the same time Harris ventured into the exciting world of television, and the rest as they say is history. Although continuing to paint as a hobby throughout the intervening years, it wasn’t until a few years back that Harris again had his name mentioned in the same breath as art and art exhibitions. Harris had made up for lost time by hosting a number of one-man shows (including holed up at the National Gallery), had The Queen sit for him as previously mentioned, was the subject of a book published that celebrated his life in art (including a national tour as part of the promotion) and was awarded the CBE to go with his MBE and OBE.
Harris’s works of art and collections are historically best sellers, and originals and prints sell out before the paint or ink’s dry in most cases, as demand for his work shows no sign of abating. In fact, as of 2011, Harris was named as the UK’s Best-Selling Published Artist.