ARTISTS are walking out en masse from Harrow Arts Centre in a storm over the censorship of five paintings.

Melvyn Leach, business manager at the arts centre, had the paintings depicting nude figures removed from an exhibition the night before it was due to open.

Artists from across the borough have reacted in horror at the decision and some have threatened to walk away from the largest arts venue in Harrow because of the perceived censorship.

Shanti Panchal, a distinguished artist who has a studio in Wealdstone, said: “I think it is terrible, it sounds like something from the middle ages.

“I was so shocked when I heard and think all artists should stand up and speak out about what’s happening.”

The rebellion is being led by Cheryl Gould, an artist with long-standing ties to the centre, in Uxbridge Road, who holds a life drawing class there every week.

She was furious after Mr Leach told her and fellow artist Jonathan Hutchins to remove their artwork, which they had offered to be in the exhibition.

She is now calling for a boycott of the arts centre until the council rethinks its position.

She said: “Unless we make a stand with a public voice, they will try to sweep it under the carpet until next time.

“The paintings and drawings were not rude, crude or remotely suggestive.

“They were just what you would expect to see from any normal life class anywhere, the sort of work my A-Level students would not be unhappy with.”

Her calls for a boycott have been backed by a host of artists from across Harrow and beyond, including members of the Harrow Visual Arts Forum and the Wembley Arts Society.

Norma Stephenson, chairman of the Harrow Arts Society, which is putting on the exhibition at the arts centre until October 26, has called on the council to clarify its position, which at the moment is “undefined”.

She said: “Is it really that bad for children to walk past pictures of people with no clothes on?

“Where do we draw the line? Which nudes if any are suitable for public display?”

Councillor Chris Mote has continued to defend the decision taken by Mr Leach and has said nude works could be displayed in a private room in the arts centre with a “health warning” on the door.

However, the artists have baulked at that offer, saying it will turn the paintings into a Victorian peep show and create more problems.

If the standoff between the council and the artists continues, it could disrupt a large exhibition being held at the arts centre next month which some artists have already said they will pull out of until the problems have been resolved.