Artist accused of paedophilia says 'no shame' in nude portraits of children, court hears
Thursday 21 March 2013
An internationally acclaimed artist living in Cornwall who is accused of being a paedophile has told a court of the "witch-hunt" surrounding those whose works involve nude children.
Graham Ovenden told police he had a "major reputation" for having "some of the best portraits of children in the last 200 years". The prosecution claims he sexually abused children at his former and current homes in London and Cornwall respectively, dating back 40 years. Ovenden, 70, denies charges of indecency with a child and indecent assault.
The 70-year-old painter and photographer, whose work has hung in a Tate gallery and some of the world's greatest museums, told Truro Crown Court how there was "no shame" in the so-called "state of grace", saying there was a "moral obligation" to capture that.
Giving evidence from the witness stand, Ovenden talked the jury through some of the images - including those featuring nudes and children in states of partial dress.
Referring to one of his subjects, an alleged victim in the case who cannot be named for legal reasons, he said: "(She) was a beautiful child - not only as she was, as you see her in front of a camera, but also as a person.
"It think it is important that someone pays homage to that and place her in a state of grace.
"I think holding those things, by photography or painting, is a moral obligation."
Referencing esteemed English poet William Blake, Ovenden described the "state of grace" as "a thing of wondrous beauty".
In one of several references to Christianity in court, Ovenden said: "Imagine Adam and Eve before the serpent - there's no shame.
"We're not born with trousers, skirts, shirts and shoes. One of the great qualities of art is to go back to the great point, the Garden of Eden."
He described the "Christian guilt complex" as being responsible for the addition of fig leaves in artwork from the 17th century on, to prevent figures from being completely nude.
Ovenden told the court how he had photographed children both clothed and partially clothed, in the presence of others, including the alleged victim's relatives.
He also told the court how he was also asked to take pictures of his subjects, including nude children.
He told the court: "I have to say the absolute witch-hunt which is going on at the moment - and the idea of a child naked is something to be frowned upon - is absolutely abhorrent."
Prosecutor Ramsay Quaife had previously described how the four alleged victims had previously posed for Ovenden. They made formal complaints to police in the late 2000s and he was arrested in 2008.
Witnesses giving evidence during the trial described how Ovenden would take his alleged victims into his studio and make them wear Victorian-style clothing, before it was removed. He would also cover their eyes before abusing them, they told the court.
Asked by his counsel, Christopher Quinlan QC, whether he found children sexually interesting, Ovenden replied simply: "No."
He also denied abusing the alleged victims.
He said a blindfold used in one of his works had a religious significance.
Ovenden told the court: "I want to keep it simple - it is the fact that when in the Catholic Church we come to confirmation, your eyes are blindfolded.
"Then the blindfold is removed to show the revelation of Christ through light. May I point out to the jury that this happens to 1.7 billion people in the world every year."
He told the court he fixed the blindfold on his subject himself, sometimes adding a small amount of double-sided tape to keep it in position as required.
He said the Victorian clothing was part of a box of costumes which were "very popular with the children".
"I gave them freedom to just take them (costumes) out of the box," he said.
He said the pictures were used for the production of a poetry broadsheet.
Mr Quinlan also asked Ovenden about a time when he was visited by two police officers after he submitted a series of negatives - including some of a child as the subject - to be developed by Kodak.
Ovenden told the court he subsequently received a letter of apology from the police for their involvement.
The hearing continues.
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