Monday, June 25, 2012

Can you tell what it is yet?

A few weeks ago Colin took me to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool to see a new temporary exhibition.

Rolf Harris: Can you tell what it is yet?

I have been to many special temporary exhibitions in the Walker, great artists (in all senses of the word) like Doves and Dreams, the art of Frances MacDonald and J Herbert McNair, or the work of  Lucian Freud, Titian, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Matisse....

But I have never seen such huge crowds for any exhibition  before, it was absolutely heaving. There were people on their own, in couples and with families, children sitting on the floor making sketches, people crowded around video screens watching Rolf in conversation with Her Majesty The Queen as he painted her, listening to his music on handsets....

When I looked at the comments that people had left, about the exhibition, on a notice board, I was amazed for instance to see so many Aussies who were holidaying in the UK and came all the way to Liverpool to share in this special event with us.

There is an inordinate amount of snobbery in the art world, you only have to think about Brian Sewell and his ill-judged comments about the unsophistication of the people of the north, he was incensed when certain exhibitions were taken to the Baltic in Gateshead and who disparaged the very idea of Liverpool as a cultural capital.

Indeed The Independent reported that

"Art critic Brian Sewell told the newspaper that Rolf Harris prints had no variation and that the television personality's portrait of the Queen Elizabeth II was dreadful and the wrong shape.

He said: "He paints the same picture all the time or paints the pictures in the same way... It's fine to be a Sunday painter. That is essentially what he is."

But how wrong can an art critic be? We read in today's Liverpool Echo that this has been the most visited exhibition the Walker Art Gallery has ever shown in its history.

And that comes as no surprise to me, in fact I said to Colin as we walked around that I had never seen so many people in an exhibition before.

There are so many wonderful paintings, Rolf is probably one of the best painters of the 20th and 21st century. There are some huge paintings that he created in an hour for TV shows, there are paintings, like the one of the steps to the Walker Gallery itself in fact where he agonised over every detail and shows the visitor each step of his journey through a series of photographs charting its progress, with notes.

There are some old favourites where Rolf showed us how to create paintings in the style of the masters, picking out details from Monet, Van Gogh,  Degas and others. The ones I really admire are probably those from London and Liverpool and other cities, painted in the last few years, where he has so beautifully captured elements of our lives today - including a group of men on Mathew Street, having a beer and a chat and tipping their cans to Rolf as he took their photograph to help him create his art work, or the one shown pictured above of women outside the Cavern.

Take my advice and ignore the Brian Sewell's of this world. If you like art - and especially if you are an art lover who "knows what they like" - get yourself along to the Walker, the exhibition runs until mid August.
You will not be disappointed I promise. You will come away humming "Two little boys" to yourself, with a happy grin of reminiscence whilst certain in the knowledge that you have seen some truly magnificent art work - and all for free.

1 comment:

Chairman Bill said...

I don't think the argument that 'the public like it' is any valid judgement on art. Popular appeal is generally an indicator of execrable taste - as evidence you only need look at TV these days.