Can you tell what it is yet?

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.

Darwin Dawn by Rolf HarrisI 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.

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Author: Jools

Abundant, Bold, Confident, Determined, Empathetic, Forthright, Grumpy, Healthier, Individual, Just me, Kind, Loving, Mellifluous, Natural, Optimistic, imPatient, Quirky, Real-world, Single-minded, unTreatable, Unwound, Verbal, Wilful, eXtraordinary, Young and old, Zero-tolerance.

12 thoughts on “Can you tell what it is yet?”

  1. This is a very thought-provoking posting. It is very hard to know how much one should distinguish between artists and their work. Hopefully, one day you will be able to hang the painting again. It reminds me of Hilaire Belloc:
    When I’m gone
    Let it be said
    His sins were scarlet
    But his books were read.

    1. Time will tell, I guess. As for separating the art from the artist, I think we are more able to do this with some sorts of crimes, sins and misbehaviours than others. It will be interesting to see how the landscape shifts once a few years have gone by and the emotions of disappointment and disgust are replaced by a more clinical interest in the notoriety.

  2. It can be very hard to separate the art from the artist because when you fall in love with a piece of art, it is natural to transfer some of those feelings to the artist. That’s not necessarily to say you love the artist (although this happens a lot in music fandom), but you have affection for them because you have formed an emotional link to them through their work. You may even feel that you know them, especially it they are already famous. All of this leads to a sense of betrayal when you find the truth behind the persona, especially so when the truth is as horrible as has been found with Rolf Harris.
    I came very close to buying a Rolf Harris print a number of years ago at an art show near his home in Bray. It would have been a lot of money at the time an in the end I didn’t. I’m really glad I made that decision, less for the financial impact, but like yourself it would have been an emotional blow.
    I hope at some point you can find some form of resolution between yourself and your print.

    1. Oh, Dylan, thank you… Thanks for understanding what I was trying to express – that sense of betrayal and even loss, when one discovers a person one has held in some esteem (for whatever reason) is not the man/woman one believed them to be. That’s worse of course when it’s someone you know personally, but even in the case of fandom/celebrity/personalities, there’s a perceived connection, based on the public persona. I was watching the film about Lance Armstrong last night and I imagine many people will have had a similar response when his lies were eventually exposed.

      Well done for resisting the print. You’ve saved yourself a whole heap of disappointment.

  3. I find this very interesting indeed. I suppose you do him honor by displaying his work in your home. What more can you do? Maybe some day somewhere down the lane you can rehang but I really don’t know. I think I would do what you have done. nicely written however.

    1. At the moment, pure appreciation of the art is impossible, layered as it is with a new perspective on the man behind the brushes. I hope passing time may allow me to enjoy it again, purely as a piece of sublime creative art. I don’t know, I just don’t know.

    1. It is indeed beautiful. But flawed people are capable of great creativity too – history tells of many, many flawed artists, writers, poets, actors, composers, musicians…

  4. I was thinking about this the other day. I saw a self portrait he had painted, and it was not a comfortable picture; it showed a man who was not at ease with himself. For that reason, it would be worth exhibiting. I think if an artist is truthful, however appalling their personality, then we ought to accept their work on its own merit. But, at the same time, you can’t smother your own emotional response. I do feel for you, Jools, I think I would do exactly the same.

    1. Interesting that this self-portrait should say so much. People are so busy rubbishing Rolf Harris’s art lately that one might imagine he couldn’t communicate such things – and yet, he does. I don’t fully appreciate what gives one artist ‘merit’ over another. But I know I like this particular picture. Taking it down feels right at the moment; but at the same time it’s a gesture, a recognition of the ‘wrongness’ of what the artist has perpetrated on his victims. I want to separate the picture from my emotional response at some future point, because I would like to be able to enjoy this piece of art again.

  5. I would have been hard pressed not to burn the picture. Or perhaps, sell it and donate the funds to an organization that aids the victims of abuse. It would not stay in my attic, however. I would feel it staring at me through the ceiling.

    1. I do understand your view, and you’re not the only one to suggest this. But it’s not as if I have several hundred pounds to throw away (or even donate) – and it’s not me who’s committed those dreadful acts so the penance shouldn’t have to be mine to pay. All I did was buy a beautiful picture from a recognised and respected artist at the peak of his popularity. Nobody wants to buy his paintings now anyway – the market has tanked for all the obvious reasons. What’s interesting though, is listening to all the thoughts and viewpoints, reading the opinon pieces in the papers and even talking to one or two galleries. I don’t often need the help of others in deciding what I think about something – but this time I did, and it’s been very useful.

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