DRAMATIC portrait tapestries are taking centre stage at a former Catholic seminary which is hosting its first art exhibition.

The first ever art exhibition curated in St Cuthbert’s Chapel, part of Ushaw College, near Durham, features American artist Chuck Close.

It includes a 2m-high tapestry of former US President Barack Obama, which has never been exhibited in the UK before.

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The artist, who is renowned for his highly inventive techniques of painting the human face, starts his creative process with Polaroid images which are then digitally woven into a tapestry.

The exhibition also features tapestries of artists Ellen Gallagher, Lyle Harris, Cindy Sherman and Kiki Smith, and a self-portrait of Close.

Lucy Jenkins said: “It was important to us that we set the bar high with our first exhibition, and we felt that Chuck Close’s tapestries would work perfectly in the space. Tapestries were historically considered works of art but seem to have fallen out of favour with the fine art world in the last century.

“However, by depicting contemporary icons Chuck gives them a new lease of life and a modern twist, echoing our ambition to help visitors experience this stunning historic space in new ways.”

Roger Kelly, director of development and culture at Ushaw, added: “This is a brilliant coup for Ushaw. We’re embarking on an exciting new developmental phase that includes inviting artists, musicians, writers and designers to respond to this unique place, resonant with social and religious history.

“We were delighted with the decision to begin this next chapter in the history of the buildings with such a significant exhibition and I am in no doubt that everyone who sees ‘Chuck Close at Ushaw’ will leave having experienced the space in a different light.”

Entry to Ushaw is free and the main house and chapels are open Wednesday to Saturday 1pm to 5pm.

The exhibition opens runs until September 30.