Entertainment & Arts

Rolf Harris unveils Walker Gallery retrospective

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Media captionRolf Harris says the staging of the exhibition is an ''absolute thrill''

The first major retrospective of Rolf Harris' art and career has opened at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, featuring his paintings alongside memorabilia from his six decades in music and TV.

The exhibition features artworks including his 2005 portrait of the Queen and new images of Liverpool, as well as his piano, wobble-boards and gold discs.

The 82-year-old Australian artist and entertainer will receive a Bafta Fellowship on 27 May and will paint the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in a special programme for BBC One next month.

Q. When you looked back over your career to prepare this exhibition, did anything surprise you?

A. The thing that shatters me is the diversity - there's not any one painting that's like any other painting. They're all different subject matter and different styles and different feelings. It's a delight to see all the variety.

Image caption Harris painted a canvas in the Walker gallery to launch the exhibition on Friday

Q. You've had careers in music, TV and art - what is the secret of such variety?

A. What I was trying to do was stay alive in this profession and keep being employed and keep doing things that worked at that time. The work got better and better and the paintings got better and better.

Q. Now you're able to take stock of your career in this way, are you happy with how it's turned out?

A. It's amazing. I set out to make a living and to keep my head above water. I was lucky enough to get into children's television when I first started but I was always able to use my art in those programmes. My ability to draw quick cartoons and my ability to play the piano and sing a song to go with the story helped, and it just got bigger and better.

Image caption Several self-portraits, including one in the style of Van Gogh (right), are on show

Q. You focused on TV for a long time - what made you take up painting again?

A. I was doing Rolf On Art about Degas in 2001 and painted that one [he points to a picture on the wall], the picture of the jockey and the horse, and painted it like Degas would have done. I enjoyed that so much that I thought to myself, why am I not doing this every day? I love it so much.

So I went home and painted the Aboriginal girl, the Arnhem Land girl [another painting in the exhibition] the next morning, and that took an hour and a half to finish, and what a buzz I had doing that. It was a landmark for me because from then on I just painted every day.

I didn't have a studio then - I used to paint under the car port in case it rained. I'd move the car out. And then I built a studio in the house. I work in there every morning now.

Q. Has your entertainment career detracted from the art? Would you like to be taken more seriously as an artist?

A. I don't think so, no. I think people believe that I can paint and that I'm a good painter. The nice thing about the entertainment game is that I've used my art in that always - painting on stage, doing big paintings, enjoying it immensely and putting the art across to the public.

Image caption Harris has painted Liverpool scenes, including the Cavern Club, for the exhibition

Q. You're such a familiar figure - is there a difference between the public Rolf and the private Rolf?

A. No, I'm a fairly energetic guy, rushing and tearing about doing this that and the other every day. I never stop.

Q. Tell me something I don't know about Rolf Harris - what do you do when you get home and switch off?

A. I read voraciously. I've just finished the trilogy of Julius Caesar by Conn Iggulden, which was an amazing three books. Prior to that I read all his books on Genghis Khan and all the offspring of Genghis Khan. The amazing research he must have done to create those books - I take my hat off to him.

Rolf Harris was speaking to BBC News entertainment reporter Ian Youngs. The exhibition, titled Can You Tell What It Is Yet?, runs until 12 August.

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