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 in every spare moment.
At 22, Rolf left Australia to study painting in London - the trip being predominantly financed by the four exhibitions he had held in his hometown of Perth. With a strong desire to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a portrait painter, he enrolled at the City & Guilds Art School but found himself disillusioned by having to do things that didn’t really interest him.
A chance encounter at Earl’s Court tube station with Australian impressionist painter ‘Bill’ Hayward Veal was to change his life and put him back on track. As a teenager, Veal’s work had impressed Rolf so much that on a trip to Sydney, he had tried, unsuccessfully, to find Bill and ask him if he would teach him. By the time of their meeting in London, Bill was running an art course and although Rolf could ill afford it, he went along anyway. The young artist became Veal’s protégé.
By the mid 50’s Rolf’s paintings were being selected for the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy and he was becoming a rising star in another medium – television – where his flair and enthusiasm inspired a new generation of budding artists.
In 2001 Rolf’s BBC television programme ‘Rolf on Art’ attracted over 24.5 million viewers, gaining the highest ratings 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 an accompanying book, ‘Rolf on Art’. An exhibition of Rolf’s signed limited editions toured the country and, in November 2002 he received one of the greatest honours possible for an artist when the bulk of his work from ‘Rolf on Art’ was exhibited at the National Gallery.
Rolf recently received an honorary membership from the Royal Society of British Artists.