STRIKING a balance between Rolf Harris as a serious artist and his fun-loving TV persona was always going to be a challenge for the curator of his first major exhibition in a UK gallery.
Both traits are equally as important in what makes Rolf, well Rolf, but they don’t fit neatly side by side – except in his personality.
There was a risk then that the Walker Art Gallery’s show would be schizophrenic – lurching from didgeridoos and wobble boards to epic Impressionist landscapes.
Yet because Harris’s voice is so clearly evident in the exhibition – particularly in the detailed information panels describing the works and a recreation of his studio – it draws the show together in a clear narrative.
His TV personality and musical career is dealt with in the first room, where a grand piano painted with a ruddy Australian landscape stands surrounded by memorabilia, from a copy of The Beano containing a Rolf-reference to a knitting pattern featuring the artist and his wife, Alwen, dressed in chunky sweaters.
As it should be, most of the exhibition is dedicated to Harris’s art, including a new series of oil paintings of Liverpool scenes and a portrait of John Devine, a visitor assistant at the Walker.
Most impressive are the sweeping landscapes of his native Australia, with fiery colouring that hits you full in the face as soon as you walk in the gallery.
In comparison, works by the European Impressionists seem rather washed out.