Rolf Harris’ love of art began as early as he can remember. Even at Primary School whenever anyone asked him “What are you going to be when you grow up?” his immediate response was “An artist … AND a good one!”
At secondary school his inspirational art master, Frank Mills, recognised and nurtured his natural talent. After leaving school Rolf studied to become a teacher, but continued drawing and painting every spare moment.
Rolf left Australia aged 22 to study painting in England. The trip was financed by and large by the four exhibitions of paintings he had held previously in his home town of Perth.
He enrolled at the City & Guilds Art School in London, wanting to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a portrait painter. That was his main aspiration in life. However he found himself doing all sorts of things that didn’t really interest him, such as etching.
A chance meeting at Earl’s Court tube station with Australian impressionist painter ‘Bill’ Hayward Veal changed his life. As a teenager in Perth, Western Australia, Veal’s work in the local art gallery had impressed Rolf so much that on a trip to Sydney with the West Australian swimming team, he had tried, unsuccessfully, to meet Bill with a view to being taught by him. At the time of their meeting in London Bill was running an art course, and though Rolf couldn’t afford it he went along anyway. “In this class I tried to impress him with thickly daubed oils on canvas paper, but Bill gave me a real canvas and told me to set up some bottles and other items that I would like to paint. He gave me a brush, some burnt sienna, some rag and a bottle of turpentine and told me to see how little paint I could use. Instead of painting isolated individual parts he told me to tackle the whole canvas all the time. I still do this now, starting off very rough and rugged and then refining later. After the course, Rolf became Veal’s protégé.
In the mid 50’s Rolf’s paintings were exhibited in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy for two consecutive years, and recently he received an honorary membership from the Royal Society of British Artists. In December 2000, the Harris family held their first ever art show together at the Halcyon Gallery in Birmingham when the works of Rolf – together with the works of his wife Alwen and their daughter Bindi – formed part of an eclectic exhibition of paintings, jewellry, sculpture and etching.
In 2001 Rolf’s BBC television programme Rolf on Art attracted over 24.5 million viewers over a period of four weeks, gaining the highest ratings ever for a programme on the visual arts in the history of television. Last year saw a follow up to the hugely successful series along with the launch of a book, Rolf on Art to accompany it. An exhibition of Rolf’s signed limited editions toured the country, whilst in November 2002 Rolf received one of the greatest honours possible for any artist when the bulk of his work from the two series of Rolf on Art, was exhibited for a month at the National Gallery, before transferring to the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair.