Police take dim view of art display going down the Tube

There are a lot of things you can do on a Tube train that will get you in trouble with the police. Paul McCann, Media Correspondent, discovers how using one as a moving art gallery can lead to a raid and maybe even two years in prison.

A guerrilla artist who has been using London Underground trains as an art gallery has been raided by British Transport Police investigating alleged offences of "indecent display".

The 26-year old artist, who wishes to be known just as `N', is from Germany and now lives in London. He has been using empty advertising slots above seats on the Piccadilly and Northern lines to display his art for over a year.

Early one morning last month six officers from British Transport Police at Baker Street station raided a friend's home that N uses as a studio. They had a warrant saying they were investigating allegations of indecent display and seized a computer, screen-printing equipment and searched through negatives. N says they also confiscated close to 2,000 copies of prints he was planning to display on the Underground.

The offence of indecent display refers to public exhibition of images that are profane and may cause offence. A spokesman for British Transport Police refused to comment on the case but said an investigation was ongoing. A file has not been submitted to the Crown Prosecution, but if prosecuted and convicted, the artist could face a fine of up to pounds 5,000 or a two-year prison sentence. At the time of the raid it was a friend of N who was arrested until the artist himself went to the police and admitted it was his work.

"I was very surprised by their actions," said N yesterday. "I had put a few thousand prints on to trains over the last year and no one seemed to mind. I had been caught at least ten times, from ordinary station staff to a quite senior London Underground manager, but every time they would just let me go. Most of the time they seemed quite happy if I gave them a signed copy of a print. I would sign them: `Caught, but forgiven'." N says staff did not object to his pictures because he didn't remove real adverts to make room for them, but used empty spaces.

He had friends helping distribute his pictures and it was one of these who was caught when police stopped a train he was targeting.

The friend gave his address and it was this was raided by the officers. The artist has favourite Tube lines and tailors his work to be the right size for their advertising panels.

"I did like using the Victoria Line," he says. "But I think there must be too many art students or something living on that line, because they were always stealing my work before it could be seen by many people."

The Tube paintings take the form of stick figures taking part in activities from dancing to drinking and having sex. It is the sexual antics which the artist believes prompted police to act. N has had other work in a different style displayed in legitimate galleries and sold. But his Tube work, he feels, is a much purer art because there is no commercialism involved.

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