Paintings removed after being called 'offensive'

Ed FossHaving spent three months with his paints and canvasses preparing more than 20 paintings for an art exhibition, John Vesty was hoping his work would be on show for more than a day.Ed Foss

Having spent three months with his paints and canvasses preparing more than 20 paintings for an art exhibition, John Vesty was hoping his work would be on show for more than a day.

But he was left 'baffled, irritated and disappointed' when his work was taken down within an hour by council officials responding to complaints the paintings were 'offensive'.

Of 22 paintings put up in the first floor gallery in North Norfolk District Council's headquarters in Cromer, all but one were of nude or semi-nude women.

But according to the artist and his supporters, none was pornographic or erotic but were instead straight forward, standard life studies and sensitively executed.

Council bosses said they had taken a 'balanced reaction' to staff complaints, and denied their decision was a case of political correctness.

The day has been saved in part by gallery owner Nick Reynolds, who has recently opened Arterie, a gallery just half a mile from the council offices in West Street.

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Mr Reynolds has taken in eight of the paintings which are displayed openly in his shop.

'You think that this sort of thing only happens in places like Iran,' said Mr Vesty, who is from East Harling but is currently on holiday in the Lake District after his long preparation for the exhibition.

'I'm totally baffled, where have these people been for the last 3,000 years?

'I have never met anyone who would react like that to paintings like this.

'It's a bizarre reaction, but I'm very grateful to Arterie for their response.'

Mr Reynolds said he thought Cromer folk were a bit more open-minded and he didn't foresee any complaints.

'I'm very surprised at the objection, people have painted nudes for centuries and there is nothing obscene or titillating about these paintings.

'I am very happy to have them in my gallery.'

Karl Read, council leisure and cultural services manager, said the artwork had been displayed in an area used by many members of staff and the public.

'In this case we received a number of complaints from members of staff and union representatives who found the paintings offensive.

'Whilst respecting the fact that art, by its very nature, is open to subjective interpretation, on this occasion the council made the decision to remove the paintings from display.

'This is not a case of political correctness. Rather, it is a balanced reaction to some members of staff finding the artwork offensive.

'It should be noted that artwork has been removed from display for similar reasons in the past and clearly, with artwork being displayed in publicly accessible areas, if we receive complaints in the future, we may decide to take similar action again.'

North Norfolk Artspace, which runs the council gallery, has put up a replacement exhibition by local artist Andrew Church, featuring scenes including Cromer beach and geese over Salthouse.

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