Olypia of Mendham Marsh by Dee Nickerson

Prudery is alive & well in Norfolk & here’s how. Last August an exhibition of 22 nudes in Cromer, Norfolk was unceremoniously taken down & stowed in a cupboard. The exhibition was in a North Norfolk Council building, and the pictures had been finally hung for about half an hour.  The painter, John Vesty, had left the gallery. and did not find out about this until later. There had, it was said, been objections from

” more than one but less than ten” Council employees: they, and union reps, had found the work “offensive,”  John Vesty said: “All of them are standard life poses – the sort of work that artists have done for hundreds of years.” The event was reported in the national press as well as locally.

What happened was reminiscent of the closure by the Police of the D H Lawrence exhibition at the Madox Street Gallery in 1929.

Delicate shy policemen came

And hid their faces for very shame

wrote Lawrence, as I remember the quote; his pictures were only to be returned to him abroad on condition that they were never again shown in England.  We are not quite so far from 1929 as you might think.

Deciding that something should be done,  we set up an exhibition of nudes at the Harleston Gallery under the title Have I Got Nudes for You: A Celebration of the Naked Truth. Forty East Anglian artists have contributed to this show, which remains open until 1st April 2011; it contains drawings, paintings, sculpture, prints and ceramics,  as well as a witty annotated display of underwear gathered by our textile artists. (Many of the contributing artists told tales of  work removed, objected to, or suppressed)

Well we got our exhibition up, and had a very enjoyable Private View.  I had emailed the Eastern Daily Press’ art critic, hoping for a substantial review.  He replied that the EDP had a strict policy on nudity (sic). I emailed to say that was curious: did it mean that if there was a show of late Renoir or Michelangelo at the Norwich Castle Museum he would not be able to review it? He replied that it would raise issues, and added that he didn’t make the rules.  So I said to Caryl, whose Gallery it is, why don’t you use your well-known charm o & bring him round? She bumped into him a couple of days later at the Private View of  Restless Times at the Castle Museum, and gave him her lovely smile, but he backed off, saying that it wasn’t his fault, and we would have to talk to the editor.  So I rang the editor.

The editor was entirely affable; he didn’t print anything in the EDP (he said) which might upset anyone in Norfolk, whose population was ageing, and had fixed views.  He added that, as far as he knew there had only once been a naked breast in the EDP, and that was for a piece about cancer. I related this to John Vesty, who went back to his files and found that at the time of the removed nudes the EDP had printed a photograph of him standing in front of his work, bums tits and all.

More recently the EDP has (twice in a week) carried a picture of men hanging the Picasso nude in the news, which is as fully frontal and sexually explicit as you can get without straying into Kama Sutra territory. Naturally the fact that it changes hands for some seventy million pounds makes it a good deal less offensive.

Paintings shown are on view at the Harleston Gallery

Penny in the Pink: portrait by Jane German