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Pictures pulled from Ulverston exhibition in BNP 'racism' row
TWO paintings were removed from a Furness art exhibition after a row broke out about their alleged ‘racist’ imagery.
The works by veteran South Lakeland artist Tom Dearden, a BNP supporter, were taken down at Ulverston’s Coronation Hall on Saturday after Labour MP John Woodcock branded the subject depicted as ‘extremist’.
The Grange-based artist, who staged the exhibition to mark his 70th birthday, has displayed his works at the Royal Academy and two of his oils feature in collections at Kendal’s Abbot Hall Art Gallery.
The two controversial pictures, depicting montages of press cuttings, drawings and abstract art, incensed Mr Woodcock when he attended the opening of the two-day Ulverston exhibition.
Following a confrontation between the MP and the artist, the artwork was taken down.
Mr Dearden said he chose to do so because he did not want to put Coronation Hall management and staff ‘in an awkward position’.
One witness to the incident claimed Mr Woodcock had asked for the closure of the entire exhibition.
Mr Woodcock said: “At first I thought there might have been some ironic message in the artwork, which used cuttings from BNP election publicity and contained what looked to me like a crude caricature of a black man's profile of the kind typical in racist material over the years.
“But the pieces rang particular alarm bells because the artist had mentioned the BNP out of nowhere when I first introduced myself.
“When his companion and the artist himself confirmed that Mr Dearden was a BNP supporter, I gave him short shrift and told him I would do nothing to help him – quite the opposite in fact.
“The divisive and intolerant politics of the BNP are not welcome in Furness and I just do not think it is right to allow those kind of views to go unchallenged, no matter how respected the artist has been up until now.”
His stand was supported by Ulverston Mayor Brenda Marr, who said: “I was an admirer of Tom Dearden’s work but I had no idea he would use an exhibition at the Coronation Hall to promote extreme views. I am glad that our MP picked up on the BNP connection and took the action he did.”
Mr Dearden said he had ‘worked hard for my art’ and was upset at ‘being verbally attacked in this manner by a young arrogant man who seems not to have a thimble full of knowledge about art’.
He added: “The work was put together from newspaper cuttings and political papers at the time that came through my door. If Mr Woodcock had come and spoken to me in the correct manner perhaps I would have had an opportunity to explain my views.
“At no time during or before the exhibition did I express any political views to members of the public.”
John Sullivan, a Liberal Democrat supporter, who helped stage the event and was present during the confrontation between the artist and the MP, claimed Mr Woodcock had asked for the exhibition be closed.
“More than 1,000 people attended the exhibition over the weekend and not one person complained other than Mr Woodcock,” said Mr Sullivan.