Croft Wingates Picture Gallery & Framers
East Midlands

Give us our bad art neat Rolf!

I once saw film maker and politico Michael Moore rant for a few hours, in an occasionally amusing manner, about the way things are. At the back of the stage, The Roundhouse in North London, hung four huge photographs. The pictures were of four boys at roughly the same age: Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Tony Blair and George Bush. We should remember too that Rolf Harris was once a child.

One can’t be certain of course though possibly his reviving, at a time of global revolutionary upheaval and radical political change, of the song Two Little Boys in 1969 is evidence of the fact that he himself knows something about childhood and was at one point a boy.

On a recent visit to Market Harborough (geographical coordinates: 52° 28′ 0″ North, 0° 55′ 0″ West) I and two highly qualified friends noticed – and we can’t have been alone in this – many prominent yellow AA signs reading “A Life in Art Rolf Harris” positioned, it would appear, to help direct the increased traffic such an exhibition would attract. Market Harborough (population 20,785) was preparing for a cultural event of great significance, the likes of which it had never experienced before. The Automobile Association was only playing its role in this.

Anyway, making no apologies for inverted snobbery here – Rolf Harris is a wealthy man after all, my learned friends and I conduct more ordinary lives in material terms – I do not admire the work of Rolf Harris at all, nor his public persona and media functions. Nancy Kominsky and Tony Hart inspired a generation or two but Rolf did not and does not, IN MY OPINION. That’s not saying he isn’t a nice man. A hippy masseuse I knew who mixed in Rolf’s circle, claimed that he was a nice man. Brighton’s openly voyeuristic graffitist Req is also a nice man it is said. Brian Sewel sees himself as a nice man. That’s not the point. We’re dealing here with objects, paintings, artefacts. We’re also dealing with media presentation. Certain approaches to art education destroy the creative urge. Not a new or exceptional accusation. Enough said. Enough hinted at.

Cutting to the chase and continuing with the anecdote, we decided to go to the exhibition and what’s more with the intent of being open minded and taking the paintings of this National Treasure seriously. The many signposts, as it turned out, were unnecessary. Market Harborough was not inundated with mobs of Harris fans. The commercial gallery hosting the exhibition, when we found it felt no different to any other shop: it contained a few browsers, a friendly proprietor and chatty staff member. Sign posts would be more appropriate for the impressive and busy fresh fish market in the town.

So: here’s the shocker. It’s not hard to see original work by painters such as Constable, Turner, Picasso or Delaroche. That’s something to experience. The least one might expect is to be able to see bad art too in its original form. But what the fuck!: the pictures presented here were not Rolf’s original paintings but copies of them, prints! These were for sale, I might add, at prices of between £500 to £1500 typically. Who the hell does Rolf Harris think he is? The show at Croft Wingates Picture Gallery and Framers was merely one of forty taking place around Britain we were told.

If only this were a big ironic exposing of some sort. Far from it: the catalogue (£5) describes Rolf Harris as a “Modern Master”, “Long acknowledged as a living legend” etc.

Anyway for want of something better to do I began sketching and making notes about one of the ‘paintings’ displayed, which shows a tiger swimming away from a burning jungle. In future I’ll review that work on its own merits. So watch this space. In the meantime perhaps you dear reader could carry out some research. The painting is titled (informatively) Fire Escape. Comments, feedback and objections welcome to [email protected] .