AN artist has already gained notoriety by having his first gallery exhibition censored before it has even opened.

An oil painting of a man lying nude on a bed near a toddler wrapped from the waist down in a towel has caused a furore at Teesside University where it will go on public display on Friday until April 17.

The floor to ceiling glass windows of its Constantine Gallery have been covered with paper so passers-by are unable to see inside and a warning sign reads: “Some may find the images in this exhibition offensive. Please enter at your own discretion.”

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Action was taken after staff complained that the image suggests paedophila, an assertion third year fine art student Phil Larry strongly denies.

He said his work merges two self portraits, one of him now and the other based on his two-year-old self.

“I am portraying a character in this figurative work, I feel very strongly about objectifying yourself,” he said.

“I am almost being discriminated against by being a man. Some people have said it would have been more acceptable if it had been a nude woman showing a ‘mother and child’. I also think the reaction would have been different if a woman had painted it.”

The 25-year-old from Middlesbrough, who is applying for MA courses in Glasgow and London, said he has been supported by his art tutors as well as Professor Gerda Roper, Dean of Teesside University School of Arts & Media, who told him it was a “gutsy painting”.

“I think the problem is what’s happening inside these people’s heads, they are putting the two figures together. I cannot control the viewer’s own perception,” he added.

“I am not shocked but maybe I was a bit naive to think that people would accept this as art.”

Mr Larry said he was not putting up explanation cards but briefing notes would be available and he was happy to discuss the meaning behind the work with visitors.

Professor Roper said: “Art had always had the power to provoke, shock and challenge as well as delight and that is something that all artists are aware of.

"There has always been controversy in art throughout history as artists challenge the status quo through their creativity. Phil’s work already seems to be having this effect.”

She added: “The work is on public display but it has been covered from general view from people passing by as we wish to respect the views of people who are not visiting the exhibition. This way people can make their own choices about viewing the exhibition.”