Filth, depravity and a light lunch with coffee

Nancy Farmer at Ilminster Arts Centre, photo is copyright of Ian Lynes
Nancy Farmer at Ilminster Arts Centre, photo is copyright of Ian Lynes

I spent an enjoyable few hours at Ilminster Arts Centre (where I currently have a solo exhibition), in my ‘artist-in-lurking’ capacity. The exhibition is stewarded and I don’t have to be there at all, but I feel it does no harm to spend some time there on hand to talk to people should they wish to. On occasion the mere being there and talking to people has led to sales which I am sure would not have happened without the human connection. People often like to how how it’s done, sometimes even why it’s done (a more difficult question).

Which is why I was hanging around the stewards desk this morning when a lady marched up to the steward on duty and said she wished to complain about the artwork. I assume she didn’t know that it was my artwork, and it was on the tip of my tongue to ask if she would like to complain to the artist in person, but (a rare event) I decided to keep my mouth shut and just watch.

The artwork, according to said lady, was not suitable for a café. Some of the rest of it was ‘all right’ but not those drawings of naked people in the café. There were children around.

Ah… this would be the café in the art gallery: there are plenty of cafés not in art galleries. But I didn’t point that out. The steward politely offered apologies for any offence caused and said he would pass on the comments and she went back to her lunch, or whatever it was, in the café, next to the nude pictures.

Under a minute later she was back with a point that she had obviously forgotten to make:

“Because, I work in child protection, so I do know…” were her approximate words.

I am not quite sure what it was that she knew. That abusive parents take their vulnerable children to art galleries and buy them lunch while making them look at nude studies of the human body, presumably.

Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, and yes, well they were drawings of naked people where people were eating lunch, but they were only naked, they were not even getting up to anything (as the characters in my other paintings frequently do). A little bit of a stir is also no bad thing for a gallery: people may come and have a look, they may even chose to stay for lunch whilst being offended by the drawings, maybe they will even tell their friends. As publicity goes, it’s probably not a bad thing.

But I did ponder this issue as I had lunch in said café. And while I was pondering, I became aware that on the table opposite me, occupied by a couple with a gaggle of children, there was a man explain to a young lad why it was that a person would draw naked people. Paraphrasing, he said that it was so that the artist learnt what shape people were, and how long their legs might be, for instance, in comparison to the rest of them, and how big their heads might be, so that when there were no naked people present, the artist could still draw convincing people-shaped people. Well said that man. I don’t know how old the lad was, but his sister was 9. I know this because she wrote it when she signed my guestbook and said that she liked the fairies.

The photo is me with some of the offending drawings – I wish I had had a camera today and could have taken a photo of the whole wall, with the café and without my face in it, but – not being an owner of a fancy-pants iphone thingy – I never seem to have even a basic sort of camera when I need one. These and more can still be seen at Ilminster Arts Centre until 31st August. I’ll be there for the next two Saturdays as well, between about 11am and 2pm. For all the details have a look at this previous post, and do feel free to come and complain.



    Oh honey, I love it. What a wonderful snooty woman and well done for just observing it all. Also love the Dad’s wonderfully down to earth comments. Rather shows what sort of filth and depravity was already in the ladies mind. A bit like the Victorians covering up the legs of grand pianos in case it was a turn on to ‘innocent’ boys.Hope you sell lots xx

    1. Thank you Liz 🙂
      Pleased to say they rather seem to like me in Ilminster – gets people talking and some lovely comments in the guest book. Yes, somehow almost always when people raise this sort of objection it is because they claim to be doing it on behalf of ‘other people’, who will have a problem with it.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    I am so glad you are showing your work, and the museum will let you show those naked people. It really is a huge problem. One incident I witnessed years ago, when my MFA class made a field trip to, among other things, a museum in Dothan, Alabama. I forgot what the main exhibition was about, but I remember that one rather small room had a warning sign posted outside the entrance advising people that some of the artwork might be unsuitable for children. The offending work was a color photograph showing two nude people rolling around in the grass, only their backsides were visible.

    In another room, which had no warning signs posted, there was Robert Heinecken’s print of a Vietnamese [?] soldier holding two severed heads dripping blood and entrails.

    The lesson, killing, cutting off heads and stuff like that is totally ok for kids to see, but bare backsides, they corrupt minors!

    1. Thanks Christian!
      Your story reminds me – one of my more popular pictures ever is Little Red Ridinghod gets Even (tiny little picture on the website there, but it’s been up for years… since before we had broadband!). Anyway, my point is that sometimes people don’t like some of my pictures with sexual undertones or overtones, but almost nobody has a problem with this one. It’s light-hearted, but it is also a child (Red Ridinghood) with a gun. Sex is a risqué subject, but children with guns, no problem….

  3. Actually the most worrying thing about that story is her statemet that she works in child protection. If there are people working in child protection who do not understand the difference between nudity and abuse, the children need protecting from them also. I hope she is unusual (to be fair, she probably is).
    Your exhibition looks great. I’m in Devon soon but sadly laid up unable to drive. I have already checked, unlikely that I can get there. Another time.

    1. Thank you and good point actually… worrying! Sorry you’re currently immobile but fear not, it will not be my last exhibition, delighted to hear you looked it up at all 🙂

  4. Pete Page

    naked is good, we were all born this way and will probably ascend to a higher place ( if there is another place) in this state, a few pieces of your work adorn our walls, no one has ever been offended, a little shocked but not offended, keep on the good work.

    1. Thanks Pete 🙂 Liking the distinction between shocked and offended: got to keep people on their toes, I think! There are always those people who are just ready to be offended…

  5. Interesting story, of-course while none of us trying to offend anyone. After all it is a world that is full with nudes and somehow we are still ashamed to display the way we were born. I am sure that your art work can only help educating people and many youngsters about life and there is no harm what so ever. Hope you have a very successful exhibiton.

    1. Hi, thank you 🙂
      it is strange that mere nakedness is seen as soo alarming, after all, most of us see nakedness every morning before we get dressed!

  6. The thought police have no understanding that the nude has a long and important history for artists who have to learn how to draw from life in order to be capable of depicting the human body. People tend to see exactly what they want to see in any art – I know of one artist, Paul Wilks who had to remove a photo of an abandoned volkswagen beetle from an exhibition because the torn canvas cover suggested a rape victim to one customer and S and M to another. The problem isn’t the artists it’s the sad state of a broken society and the argument that it is art cuts no ice with of people who see evil intention everywhere they look.

    1. Wow… that is a worrying story abut the photo of the VW – you’re right – what people see is often a reflection of themselves… which of course could sometimes be the purpose but not, I feel, when they get it so badly distorted!

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