AN offbeat artist has lost one of his best-known anti-war paintings, 15 years after a public outcry prompting its removal from an exhibition.

Gavin Mayhew sparked a blasphemy row back in 1993 when visitors to Crook Civic Centre, in County Durham, objected to his oil painting of Christ on the cross, strapped to the gun of a tank and wearing a red nose.

He took it home when council officials threatened to cancel his exhibition, and it went with him when he moved from Wolsingham to the upper Weardale village of Westgate.

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The former art teacher – who describes his repertoire as “schizophrenic” – had become used to seeing the familiar canvas hanging in the hall of his home, Crag Villa, until this summer when it disappeared while he was on a working trip to Germany.

Now he can’t understand where it has gone, as there has been no sign of a break-in and none of his friends has admitted to taking it as a joke.

He said: “It is a complete mystery. It had just gone when I got back. It can’t have been a practical joke because I would have been told by now and I’ve asked all my friends and relatives in case I had forgotten lending it to them.

“I haven’t told police because I keep thinking it will turn up, but I am no further forward.

“It was one of my favourite paintings, but people never understood it. It was meant to be anti-war, but people thought it was anti-religion and accused me of blasphemy.

“I have always been fond of it and got used to it hanging in the front passage.

“The only explanation I can come up with is that some religious person somehow knocked on the door and was offended by it.

“I hope I get it back because it is one of my favourites. It has certainly been one of my most controversial pieces of work.”

Mr Mayhew is well know for painting pub signs and murals and takes occasional classes in schools and colleges.

He is currently teaching on Wednesdays in St Thomas’ Church Hall, Stanhope.

Another of his paintings, The Big Bang, was also removed from Crook Civic Centre in 1996 when council officials realised it contained male and female sex organs.

Anyone with information about the missing picture is asked to call 01388-517308.