Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Ovenden Guilty

Three weeks ago I reported on the prosecution of controversial English artist Graham Ovenden on charges of indecency with young girls (CLICK). Yesterday at Truro Crown Court he was found guilty of six counts of indecency and one of indecent assault (CLICK). Now that the jury has reached its verdict, I believe I can comment on this case without being in contempt of court. If Ovenden really is guilty, he deserves all he gets when the judge passes sentence at Plymouth Crown Court on a date to be determined. But historic allegations of abuse are usually impossible to prove, because there is no "smoking gun". In this case the "smoking gun" appears to have been the body of Ovenden's art. He has specialised in paintings and photos of young girls, often naked. Shown is his Cockney Graces (1981). Such a painting proves that the opportunity for abuse existed, but not that abuse took place. Would jurors lacking knowledge of art history appreciate this distinction? In 1992 Ovenden's book States of Grace (1964) was subject to an obscenity trial in the USA. A witness on his behalf gave the following evidence. "I have known Graham Ovenden as a family friend for fourteen years - since I was four years old. I have modeled for Graham on numerous occasions - in fact, too numerous to count - for both his photographs and paintings. I have modeled for him both clothed and fully nude, both alone and with other children.... The portrait which the United States has charged as indecent is a portrait of me as I was eight years ago. I am not acting in a sexual way in the picture and Graham never asked me to sexual or treated me as a sexual object. The accusation that the image is "obscene" is, to me, an accusation that I am 'obscene,' something to which I take offense" (sic, CLICK). That case was dropped. Yesterday's conviction suggests that all artists who use a naked child as a model need a reliable, independent chaperon present to avoid future accusations of child abuse. What would the Old Masters have made of this? Their work is filled with naked cherubs.


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