Rolf Harris delves into the lives of artists inspired by Wales. He explores the life of Graham Sutherland, renowned for his passion for the Pembrokeshire landscape.
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I'm on a wonderful Welsh adventure
as I discover more about four outstanding artists,
influenced by this great land.
During this series, I'll be creating paintings inspired by their work.
I'm going to have to paint in ways I've never done before.
And at the end of it, I'll probably turn to you and say,
"Can you tell what it is yet?"
We're in Pembrokeshire, a fantastic part of the country.
Craggy cliffs, gorgeous golden sands.
It's a paradise for any painter.
Well, it certainly inspired one man,
who, at the height of his fame,
was one of the most celebrated artists in the world -
Throughout the '30s and '40s,
Graham Sutherland's wonderful abstract creations
adorned the walls of galleries across the world.
In Britain, he quickly became
one of the nation's most celebrated and respected artists.
And right up to his death in 1980,
Sutherland was obsessed with the Pembrokeshire landscape.
Its magic touched virtually every one of his masterpieces
and helped to catapult his work onto the global stage.
Although he lived in London,
Sutherland returned to Wales time and time again throughout his life.
He loved the place....
and the Welsh loved him.
I must confess to feeling a huge responsibility
in trying to paint my tribute to such a respected artist.
So, to get inside the great man's head,
I'm off on a journey around Pembrokeshire.
I want to walk in Sutherland's footsteps,
visit his old haunts -
such as here in Porthclais Bay.
And hopefully, experience the same things that inspired him.
It's the perfect Pembrokeshire day.
And don't just take my word for it -
look at all the holidaymakers enjoying themselves there,
crabbing on the quayside.
70-odd years ago,
Graham Sutherland made the long trip down here to West Wales
and what he found here changed his life forever.
And it wasn't just the delicious Pembrokeshire ice-cream
that kept him coming back!
This little Pembrokeshire jewel had a hypnotic hold over Sutherland
and became the focus for one of his most famous paintings -
the Road To Porthclais.
It's a painting that had a great impact on me,
and one that I'm thinking of emulating
with my tribute to the man.
To help me understand what really shaped his art,
I've arranged to meet Sutherland expert Sally Moss.
What was the impact that Pembrokeshire had on his art from his very first visit?
It was Pembrokeshire that made him as a painter.
I suppose you could say, he saw the light, in many ways.
Literally, and also in terms of his passion.
It was the joy of being here,
immersed in a contemplative way in the landscape,
that made him a painter.
So from being a printmaker,
he became one of the world's most famous painters, and it was here that did it.
I've heard there's a very particular light in Pembrokeshire.
How did that affect him?
He said that he felt the light here was so extraordinary
that you could almost reach out into the landscape
and put your hand around it.
You could put your head sideways and you'd see right the way round to the other side.
What a good description that is.
Sutherland became hooked
on Pembrokeshire's spectacular countryside.
When he wasn't sketching away in his London studio,
he would rush back to Pembrokeshire,
taking time out from his ever-growing celebrity status.
Graham and his wife, Kathleen,
rapidly became the new darlings of Britain's art scene.
I had just arrived in this country in the early '50s,
so I know what his impact was on ME.
But how important was he in the world of art?
It's difficult to understand now what an incredible celebrity an artist could be.
And certainly at that time,
he and Kathleen were a little bit like the Posh and Becks of the time.
How would you describe a typical Sutherland piece of art?
Sutherland's work is absolutely wonderful.
He wasn't looking at vistas, he was honing in on tiny bits of landscape,
in exactly the way we all do.
You walk along when you're on the beach or in the countryside,
you see a pebble, or twisty root, or a twig and you pop it in your pocket,
and he was exactly the same.
But the additional thing he did of course, was he drew it as well.
I'm starting to get a real idea of the kinds of images and landscapes
that inspired Sutherland's art
But our painting seems poles apart.
We come from totally different worlds
and we've led totally different lives.
Graham Sutherland was born in Streatham in London, in 1903
and after a brief spell as an engineering draughtsman,
he developed a taste for drawing.
But the most influential chapter of Sutherland's artistic life happened in 1934,
when he visited Pembrokeshire for the first time.
He later wrote,
"I had never seen country quite like this before.
"It was full of forms and suggestions.
"When I came here, I was hooked and obsessed."
With the outbreak of war, Sutherland became an official war artist,
visiting the bombed-out devastation of Swansea
and London's East End.
These images moved him deeply
and from then on, Sutherland's work took a darker turn.
To get a real feel for Sutherland
and the picture I'm hoping to imitate,
I need to see his canvases first-hand.
So I'm heading off to Oriel Y Parc Gallery in St David's,
that has a wing dedicated to his work.
They're actually changing the exhibition at the moment.
-It's amazing how many different types of green he can fit in.
-I just love that.
It's fantastic the way he's got a way with shades of green.
'I've been trusted by the gallery's Lucy Hall...'
It's much heavier than it looks, for a smaller painting.
'..to help her hang one of Graham's paintings.'
How do people react to his work when they come in?
I think you love him or you hate him.
Adults react very differently to children.
Children adore Graham Sutherland - they love the colours, the shapes
and they love the stories and things they can see.
Although he's abstract, they get a lot out of it.
I'm expected to do my version of the Road To Porthclais
and it's going to be some task, I think.
It'll be a challenge. He's quite tricky.
He has such a complex technique.
But as long as you stick to his techniques
-and bring in a bit of your own talent.
Just an indication of it, maybe.
But who knows? We will see.
I'm excited to see it.
-Wish me luck.
Well, this is it.
And it's very abstract.
At least it has a horizon there
and it has indication of sea and the headland.
And the setting sun.
It's going to be some task.
I feel a real need to get an inspirational eye for the detail
in the same way that Sutherland did.
So it's another trip out into the heart of Pembrokeshire.
Sutherland became obsessed with gnarled tree roots,
wrecks of boats,
old chains, and rocks.
Anything that he could pick up
that would be an inspiration for his art.
And I'm very much like him.
I mean, I can go to a beach and spend hours traipsing along,
looking for little bits of rocks
or little bits of things that I might be able to polish,
or shapes like this.
Wonderful, complex shapes, which you might draw or put into a painting.
70 years after Graham Sutherland's first visit to Pembrokeshire,
a new generation of artists have been inspired by his work.
Like Brendan Stuart Burns,
a celebrated British artist,
who's made Wales his home.
What do you think of Graham Sutherland's picking up objects wherever he went,
and grabbing them?
-Well, as you see that...
-A case in point.
It's fantastic, isn't it? And that's just naturally broken off.
The lichen there that's taken 30 or 40 years to grow.
Wherever you look, it's like a Sutherland drawing or painting, isn't it?
See the spikes on the end of that? And the water.
And then this bit of pitch-black almost in front of it, you know.
It is. Everywhere you look is a Sutherland.
In the detail, in the view.
Does it feel like Sutherland to you, when you walk in these places?
It does. In the minutiae, you know, the detail.
The little sort of drawings
and the little things that he would have been fascinated in.
The root forms, the structures, the colouring.
It's the little things,
-not the big picture, not the scene, not the view.
-Like this one, behind you?
It's those wonderful natural forms and shapes.
I always have to have an end product of a picture.
All the sketches and little bits of things...
I need a horizon, and I need...
Sutherland certainly didn't ever have that.
He had motifs, didn't he?
He didn't have... He didn't ever work with a finished view.
He learned to paint in Wales,
but he found it extremely difficult to paint finished pieces in the landscape.
And I find that still very difficult,
whenever I try to work with a so-called finished piece,
whatever that is.
So there's no mystery?
No, no mystery. I think painting needs to be mysterious.
I like not knowing.
I like discovering, through painting, what the landscape is doing.
Completely opposite to me! I want to know what that is...
There are lots of different languages, aren't there? Music is the same.
After talking to Brendan, I feel I've finally got a much better understanding
of the kind of natural detail
that Sutherland drew on to create his art.
And I guess I can't put it off any longer.
It's time to plant my easel
and commit some paint to canvas.
A well-chosen Pembrokeshire location to paint
might just help me hit the ground running.
Us artists get obsessed with the strangest things.
When Graham Sutherland first came here,
he became fixated with that hill, Carn Llidi.
And that's not easy to say if you're an Australian!
But he just loved the rocks all over the top of it
and he drew them countless times.
Mind you, I don't know how he would have got on
with the distraction of these pigs wandering around all over the place.
# There was an old farmer
# Had an old sow-ow-ow
# Susannah's a funny old man-an-an
# Idle-dee dan. #
I think I might just have found the ideal spot
for me to paint my tribute to Sutherland.
It's a wonderful cottage with fantastic views.
I'm using acrylic paints
and I've already laid down a framework
with some quick pencil sketches.
I think I've got to get on with some paint.
I want to see some great gutsy chunks of colour in there.
So, let's do it.
Slosh a bit of white in with some of that really orangey red
to create that road coming down there first, I think.
And he sneaks back there.
It's fascinating, isn't it?
I'm already getting a feel of the way he used colour,
judging from his paintings.
And that can go right across there, like that.
And I can do the setting sun.
There's a black outline around there.
I'm using a little rigger brush to indicate where things went.
In a lot of the sections in Sutherland's painting, Road To Porthclais,
he's not doing exactly what he saw in front of him.
He's elaborating and...
making it a little bit more...
interesting to him, I guess.
I want to get a bit of this
sort of heart-shaped thing in here.
Sutherland - he was probably creating what he saw as
the best of Pembrokeshire.
Getting the features that he liked best in there,
which is what I'm trying to do.
I'm trying to reproduce that sort of approach.
Now, all this is really dark, like a big circle in there.
That's a real big dark bit up here.
I'm not trying to make it exactly like Sutherland did,
although I want a lot of the elements to be the same.
Those distinctive elements in Sutherland's paintings
just oozed out of the landscape during his many sketching rambles in Pembrokeshire.
In the 1940s,
Sutherland was on the lookout for ideas
for his latest and grandest commission to date -
the Crucifixion of Christ for St Matthew's Church in Northampton.
And what sparked him off,
was the oddest of Pembrokeshire's fauna -
It was this picture
that brought all of Sutherland's life experiences together.
The reality of war,
and Welsh landscapes and nature.
Sutherland's work took a shift towards the avant-garde.
His huge Crucifixion was hailed as a masterpiece
and became one of Sutherland's most powerful and influential paintings.
Although Sutherland's work
was influenced by the nature and landscape of Pembrokeshire,
its history was also important to him.
Thank you very much indeed. Nice to see you.
'Generations of John Beer's family have been sea mariners here,
'and John's grandmother knew Sutherland well.'
'John has kindly agreed to take me out on his boat
for a taste of Sutherland's favourite Pembrokeshire haunts.'
That's exactly the sort of thing he would have loved to have drawn, eh?
This is it, isn't it? This was an area he enjoyed.
He first came to Sandy Haven, which is a short distance away.
We're going to have a look at that.
How did Graham Sutherland get to know your family?
He first came over in the late '30s, I believe.
My family were sea-going, old ships' captains, coastal vessels.
My grandmother was a character
and eventually he chatted her up
and used my grandfather's old ship sheds
to keep his paintings and art materials in.
And I think he wanted to repay her kindness,
-and he offered her a painting.
He said, "I'll give you a tip.
"The bigger the painting, the more they're worth."
She said to him, "I've thought about it.
"I live in an old captain's house, and I haven't got room for a big painting. But it's very kind."
So she got a little painting?
Well, she said afterwards she wished she had had a little painting.
-Oh, she didn't get one at all?
-She didn't get a little painting either!
So this is Sandy Haven?
This is Sandy Haven Creek, and this is where my family lived.
Did he do a lot of painting out in the open?
My grandmother says that this was his favourite location.
But it was definitely the first he came to in Pembrokeshire.
Lovely light and shade there now, with that bright green bit and then the darkness behind,
and that little waterway going in there.
It probably enabled him to have a different view.
Nice to see the land from the sea for a change.
And over here is the red sandstone that Sutherland enjoyed.
And I know that was a favourite position for Sutherland to set his easel up.
-He spent many days there.
-He loved those rocks, didn't he?
This is the kind of thing which
might set me off.
I think it should be understood that
when I start to be interested in something,
I have to prune everything away
except literally the form which I happen to be interested in,
such as this.
And in this particular estuary,
the light is so strong normally,
that the shadows are really as important
as the forms themselves.
Sutherland's landscapes may have taken the world by storm,
but he was also well known for his portraits.
In the 1950s,
he was commissioned to paint Sir Winston Churchill.
A great honour,
but one that was about to blow up in Sutherland's face.
The painting was praised and reviled in equal measure by MPs.
Churchill hated it.
At the official unveiling,
he couldn't resist taking a sarcastic swipe
at Sutherland's expense.
It's a remarkable example of modern art.
It certainly combines force and candour.
Churchill claimed he'd been betrayed by Sutherland
because the painting made him look old and half-witted.
He ordered his wife to burn it,
and Sutherland's most momentous portrait was never seen again.
Sutherland was devastated.
What a tragedy.
I remember feeling outraged at the time.
I hope no-one's going to burn my Sutherland picture.
You keep seeing the little bits,
and you wonder what his decision-making pattern was.
How did he decide to put some of this blue in there?
I don't use grids to enlarge things,
I just judge by my eye.
And quite often,
that results in me getting the proportions a bit wrong.
Of course, Graham Sutherland loved to use grids on his paintings
to blow them up to the exact shape and size
of the drawings that he'd done beforehand.
He wanted that perfection and that exactness.
I was thinking maybe I'd get that...
Yes, I will. I'll get that circle perfected.
With a little compass - that exact circle.
You can see how wrong I was in my rough estimate of the circle.
Look - that bit's right out.
Good heavens, right.
What I think I'll do is grab a big brush, put all that sky in
rather than fiddling around with a tiny little brush.
Maybe a bit of that blue, that cerulean hue.
Let's try that.
I'm trying very much to follow Sutherland's colours,
the way he organised them all.
There is a really dark, black bit in there
against that crescent moon shape.
Sutherland used a lot of these earth colours,
and they just relate to the green, farming community,
and the earth colours forever shining through from underneath.
Forever there, when it is ploughed,
or moved up at all.
Gosh, I'm enjoying this.
As it progresses, I get the sort of feeling
of the way Sutherland has built the scenery into the whole thing
and worked out how it all works.
It's just lovely.
Once this is all nice and dry, I can come back in
and the tiny detail that's required,
like the really fine lines outlining things
and around the shape of the roads.
I feel like I just might have turned a corner
with my tribute to Sutherland.
And it's time to define a little bit of "Rolf" slant on Pembrokeshire.
I'm off to the beach,
in the hope that a dose of sea air
just might stimulate the old creative juices.
I'm going to try a few quick sketches
of what immediately strikes my eye.
And these surfers seem to fit the bill.
Legend has it,
that St Patrick set off from this part of the world
to take Christianity to Ireland.
But seeing these surfboards reminds me very much
of some of the shapes that Graham Sutherland created
when he was doing his painting, Cathedral Of Rocks.
It just reminds me of those big bulgy shapes there.
So I'm just trying to capture some of that
and the different heights of the different surfers.
Well, it's been a really inspiring trip to the beach.
I can almost picture Sutherland
foraging among the flotsam and jetsam
that washed up around his feet.
After the Churchill portrait fiasco,
Sutherland decided to leave Pembrokeshire behind
and settle in France permanently.
Holidays in South Wales became a thing of the past.
And with the Swinging '60s came mini-skirts, Andy Warhol,
and Pop Art,
and Sutherland rapidly fell out of favour.
But not for long.
In 1967, Graham returned to Pembrokeshire
and was instantly reinvigorated.
He said, "I thought I had exhausted what the countryside had to offer.
"I was sadly mistaken."
Sutherland poured out Welsh landscapes again
right up to his death in London in 1980, at the age of 75.
It's in old Sutherland haunts like this
that you can still feel the great man's presence.
He stayed in this cottage near St David's when it was a B&B,
using it as his base for many trips out to study
and to sketch the landscape.
Graham Sutherland returned to this farm
after visiting the bombed-out areas of Swansea
and recording the devastation there
as part of his job as a war artist.
So you can imagine him sitting here,
in the peace and tranquillity of this place.
And of course, he would have whipped the pencil out
and got stuck into drawing this tree, which he did.
This is his pencil and watercolour version of the tree as it was.
We used to have a huge fig tree like this in our garden.
Well, I think I've soaked up enough of the Pembrokeshire ether.
It's back to the grindstone
to see if I can finally put my Sutherland tribute to rest.
So, I've got to create now
where Sutherland ends and Harris begins.
Perhaps I could do some of those fig tree shapes that I sketched.
I'll shove some black into those little bits. Boof, boof!
Boof, boof, boof. Bit of black in there.
Dirty green now. Oh, well.
It's a surprise to me
that Sutherland, who was very famous for his portraits,
never actually put figures into his landscapes.
And I found that a bit of a shock,
and I fully intended to paint a couple of figures walking up this road,
going round there, and then I thought... "Perhaps not."
Leave it the way he did it.
There's a big leaf that comes down there like that.
So I'll make a bit more of a feature of that,
because there's some nice dark bits behind this
and showing that leaf there.
A bit down there, dark.
A bit darker than that would be good.
And I think I'll scumble over those branches
so that they start to disappear back into the gloom.
Wahey! That looks good.
Graham Sutherland once said
that it was in Pembrokeshire that he learned to paint.
And having spent a little bit of time here, I can understand that.
A lot of people don't warm to Sutherland's art.
But you know, art isn't supposed to be just pretty, pretty pictures.
It should inspire a passion,
it should encourage debate.
And Sutherland certainly did that with his work.
It just remains to sign this now
and I finished my version of the Road To Porthclais.
It's almost like a living cartoon, isn't it?
The top bit represents Graham Sutherland,
and you get to the bottom - bottom left, bottom right -
and it's very much sort of cartoony Rolf.
But I love it.
I've enjoyed doing it immensely.
Hope you like it.
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Rolf Harris goes on an entertaining and personal journey to discover more about four artists inspired by Wales and its people. Rolf explores the life and work of the acclaimed painter Graham Sutherland, who in the 1930s and 40s became one of the most famous artists in the world thanks to his passion for painting the Pembrokeshire landscape. In trying to understand what inspired Sutherland most, Rolf enjoys the astounding beauty of stretches of the west Wales coastline, before imitating one of Sutherland's most challenging and stunning abstract paintings.