When should art be separated from the artist? That is the question a local government in Whitpelt, Western Australia, faced this week when it voted against the sale of a painting of convicted child sex offender Rolf Harris.
the main points:
- Wheatbelt Council voted against selling a painting it was gifted to by convicted paedophile Rolf Harris
- The Shire of Quairading removed the artwork from the show in 2014
- The painting divided the community, with some wanting the piece destroyed
At the request of a classmate at Perth Modern School, the disgraced artist painted a Quairading bush scene in front of a crowd at the local town hall in 1983.
Local governments and other institutions scrambled to tear down Harris’ artwork and graffiti in 2014 after the now 92-year-old was found guilty of indecent assault on four girls in the UK between 1968 and 1986.
The Quairading piece has been in storage ever since, but the board recently received an offer from a private buyer willing to pay $3,000 for the painting.
The locals are divided on the drawing
The community’s opinions were then sought on what to do with the artwork, with about half of the 75 people who responded saying they wanted to keep the painting in a prominent area.
Supporters have claimed it was a nostalgic piece of art, with many having fond memories of being infatuated when the painting took shape before their eyes.
A report submitted to the board stated that more than 50 percent of respondents who opposed keeping the artwork did not want to “celebrate” the “well-known pedophile and lifelong trauma he has inflicted on children” by displaying the painting.
Some members of the community suggested that the painting be appraised by an art dealer before it could be sold, with the proceeds donated to an appropriate cause.
Others wanted the piece destroyed.
Peter Smith, chair of the Shire of Quairading, said the council ultimately decided not to sell the painting.
“We have taken the view as a collegiate council that it is the property of the community and in view of this equal division we have decided not to sell it and we must keep it for posterity,” he said.
“We are here to make decisions on behalf of our community. It is reasonable to keep them as property of our community.”
Mr. Smith acknowledged that many are fond of the artwork, but said the painting would never be displayed again at City Hall.
“I think it’s a beautiful painting but I’m in no way condoning any of it [Harris’s] past actions.”
Quairading isn’t the only Wheatbelt town to have received art by Harris, and the Shire of Dalwallinu’s decision to repaint a painting after its conviction led to significant backlash. The painting has since been removed from public view.
The City of Grialdton has one Harris artwork in storage at the Geraldton Regional Art Gallery, but Mayor Shane Van Steen said there are no plans to move, display or sell it.
In 2015, Harris was stripped of the honors bestowed on him by Queen Elizabeth II after his portrait of the late monarch was unveiled in 2005.
The ABC reported in September that the current location of the image is unknown, with the last public sighting being at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool.
A building supply store in Caulfield painted an advertisement for “British Paints” by Harris and Madame Tussauds Sydney removed the artist’s wax figure after community feedback.
Harris was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison, but was released after serving only three years.