Do you like this picture? It’s not an original, only a limited edition print, but I think it’s stunning. At least, I did.
I loved it the moment I saw it, four years ago. At a few hundred pounds it cost more than I’d ever spent on a picture before – it was a real treat to self. I was thrilled when it was delivered, beautifully mounted and framed and complete with authentication. Since then it has hung on my landing, half way up the stairs and away from natural light which might damage it. And I have enjoyed and treasured it every day.
Every day, that is, until last week.
Look closely at the signature on the mount to the bottom right of the picture and you’ll realise why my feelings for this slice of creative endeavour have tarnished.
Yes, this is a print of a painting by Rolf Harris.
UK and Australian readers of this blog will be more than familiar with Rolf Harris, one-time television presenter, children’s entertainer, singer-songwriter, master of curious musical instruments (wobble board, didgeridoo and stylophone), artist of some note and – of course – gold-plated national treasure. He was a regular on television throughout my childhood at a time when the whole family watched together at Saturday teatime. His impish humour made us laugh; he would paint inexplicable splashes and splats with decorating brushes and black emulsion, which morphed mysteriously into magnificent panoramas. He carved a niche for himself as a popular artist (even though the snootier art critics would always rubbish him) and migrated to presenting programmes about sick animals and grandiose public art projects. He even painted the Queen.
That was then.
And this is now. As of last week, in a spectacular fall from grace, 84-year-old Rolf Harris is now serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, having been convicted of multiple indecent assaults on young and teenage girls.
My picture – it’s called Darwin Dawn, by the way (although apparently it shows not dawn breaking, but a sunset) – remained resolutely on display as the trial ploughed on towards its almost inevitable conclusion; innocent until proven guilty and all that. But the conviction changed things.
Since the trial much has been written about the fire-sale of Rolf Harris artwork – you won’t be surprised that I was looking out for opinion pieces on this topic. The internet is now awash with listings of his pictures at a fraction of original value. I understand completely the desire of many owners to divest themselves of these tainted artworks, even though they’ll take a hit, financially speaking. I considered it myself. I thought long and hard about it but I’ve decided I don’t want to sell.
But before you rush to judge I’ll tell you, it doesn’t feel good or right or proper to have this picture hanging on my wall. I’m not comfortable being that intimate with it anymore; I don’t want to walk past the signature every day; I no longer feel the glow of joy at owning this picture; and I don’t want friends and other visitors to wonder why I’m displaying the art of a child molester. This beautiful piece of art taints my home.
Many creative types – writers, artists, actors, musicians – have earned society’s disapprobation for crimes, moral weaknesses and addictions. In time we forgive most of them. But sexual assault on children is a step so much further, a line crossed. It’s a place from which there is no return, no rehabilitation, socially or artistically. Rolf Harris, national treasure, is tainted now and so too is my love of that picture. It’s hardly a crime when compared to what his victims endured, but he’s robbed me and many others – of the pleasure of enjoying his art.
So the sun has well and truly set on Darwin Dawn. It’ll be taken down and tucked away, safely stored. No danger of it suffering sunlight damage any more, that’s for sure.