If you ask any english person who is the greatest Australian artist, I suspect the answer would be Rolf Harris. This is not so much a reflection on Rolf's talent, as an indication of the parcity of information about any Australian artists or Australian culture in the European media. There may be references to Kylie or even Dame Edna, but artists in the visual arts, that's a different tale. Rolf is probably the only Australian artist that they could name.
Australian's are an uncultured mob who's only recent contribution to the international art scene is aboriginal art. At least that's the European view. And that's why this blog exists.
TONY EASTLEY: There's been a mixed reception to news that Rolf Harris has been commissioned to paint the 80th birthday portrait of the Queen. The monarch, who's posed for more than 120 artists over the years, turns 80 next April and is to sit for Mr Harris in the coming months. While the Australian artist, who lives in London, says he's honoured but a little worried about getting stage fright, several critics have described his choice as odd. Europe Correspondent Jane Hutcheon reports. (Sound of Rolf Harris singing 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down')
JANE HUTCHEON: For an entertainer, it must be annoying to hear an old song over and over again when you've moved on to bigger and better things. But while most Australians associate Rolf Harris with the wobble board and didgeridoo, in Britain he's again in the headlines for breaking new ground. Buckingham Palace said the Queen was pleased to agree to Mr Harris' request, as he had an excellent reputation for making art accessible. But the Times newspaper described Rolf Harris as the Leonardo da Vinci of light entertainment, and said while he might have time on his side, it didn't mean the portrait would be good. According to Peter Brown, a gallery owner in Leeds, that's a little rough.
PETER BROWN: Rough or jealous? I'm not too sure. They've said that about quite a few artists. At the end of the day, we've got art, we've got what people want on their walls, and I'm not going to dictate what people want on their walls, and I think the critics should be a little bit cautious with what they say sometimes.
JANE HUTCHEON: Rolf Harris wasn't available to answer his critics. According to his publicist he's too busy for interviews. Despite his 75 years, he's far from slowing down. Four years ago, his Rolf on Art series on BBC television attracted 25 million viewers – a record number for a visual arts program. He's exhibited at the prestigious National Gallery. Outside the gallery, which faces onto Trafalgar Square, I asked passers-by for their thoughts on the artist.
VOX POP: If you're looking to get some big intellectual content out of Rolf Harris, then there's not a lot there is there, I suppose. But if you just want a nice portrait of the Queen then fair enough, I doubt she wants anything conceptual or anything does she, so he's good for that.
JANE HUTCHEON: Peter Brown, whose gallery sells limited editions of Rolf Harris' works, believes selecting the Australian artist is proof of his wide appeal. Would you describe him as one of Britain's greatest artists?
PETER BROWN: (Laughs) Oh dear, that's a very awkward one to answer. Greatest? No. And I don't think he himself would say he is one of Britain's greatest artists. And the important thing, really, will be ask the question again in 50 years' time.
JANE HUTCHEON: Is Rolf Harris a controversial choice? We'll have to wait and see, but if it's popularity Buckingham Palace is after, the Royals may just have found their man. A recent survey discovered one in 14 people believed the dab hand at the wobble board was also responsible for Monet's water lilies. This is Jane Hutcheon in London for AM.
Peter Brown's gallery sells Harris reproductions