Rolf On Welsh Art

Monday 7 February 2011, 17:28

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The exuberant Rolf Harris goes in search of some of the greatest artists to be inspired by Wales in a new series Rolf on Welsh Art (Wednesday 16 February, BBC One Wales).

In the series Rolf, whose own family hail from Merthyr Tydfil, looks at the landscapes and the people who inspired the late great Sir Kyffin Williams, Graham Sutherland, Josef Herman and Shani Rhys James - like Rolf, an Australian who has long lived in Britain.

And in each of the four episodes, Rolf tackles a tricky challenge - trying to paint a picture in the style of each of the artists.

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"I think everybody looks at something in a different way. You've got to enjoy the end result and just wonder how you'd go about painting it if you had the chance. Would you be able to tackle it?" says Rolf of his attempts to capture the essence of each of the four's styles on canvas. "But it's really a shock when you try and paint something as someone else does it. They have been doing it for years and years and you try it for the first time, and if it doesn't work, that's such a shock," he says.

Of the several styles he tried out, he believes his most successful was his tribute to Josef Herman, a Polish émigré who set up a studio in Ystradgynlais in the 1940s to paint some of the most enduring images of the working man ever seen.

His subject was the Welsh miners, who he portrayed as mighty figures, similar, Rolf feels, to the statues on Easter Island.

"He painted them as heroic figures because that's the way he saw Welsh miners - as heroes," says Rolf of Herman. "I think it was the first time that most people had ever had that pointed out to them, that these men were so heroic, so courageous and gutsy, braving possible death underground at every step. He had nothing but admiration for them and that came out in his paintings."

The series starts with a look at the life and work of Sir Kyffin on his beloved Anglesey. The painter was a personal friend of Rolf, who reminisces about the artist as he finds his sitter for his Sir Kyffin-style painting, farmer Hefin Jones - otherwise known as the father of opera star Bryn Terfel.

"That was one of my favourite moments - painting Hefin," says Rolf. "I managed to get a really good likeness, but it didn't finish up anywhere near as good as the many palette knife portraits Kyffin had made of so many Welsh people.

"I found I was using the tip of the palette knife to paint a lot of things in tiny detail, whereas he seemed to use the great flat areas of the knife blade to smooth things across. The more I painted, or tried to paint in his style, the more I realised just how absolutely brilliant he was, just so incredibly good!"

In this first programme, Rolf also takes a trip up the Snowdonia Mountain Railway and visits Oriel Ynys Mon in Llangefni, where many of Sir Kyffin's paintings are now housed. And the gallery is taking delivery of Rolf's own original picture of Hefin Jones which will be on public display from today.

And there's a chance to catch up with even more Welsh art in a companion series, Framing Wales, which starts on 24 February on BBC Two Wales. Kim Howells presents his personal view of the abundance of great painters and paintings that emerged from Wales during the 20th century.

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    Comment number 1.

    I find this series the worst thing that could happen to Welsh art. For Rolf Harris to talk about four great artists is a disservice to the efforts they have put in. To then hold his pathetic daubs in such esteem by BBC Wales and the regional galleries that have become involved does nothing for today's art in Wales. As Rolf Harris asks; 'Can you tell what it is yet? Yes it's rubbish.

 

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