Artist Statement

Paul is a mixed media artist inspired by scientific images and what they reveal about our perceptions of and relationship to the world around us. He explores how we perceive nature through the distorting lens of custodianship and control.

The scientific method necessarily reduces complexity to manageable dimensions so the macro can be studied in the micro, but there is unavoidable bias in the choice of what to exclude.

Paul’s current work, The Grassland Project, delves into two troves of found scientific slides – the lifelong collection of a plant biologist, and the entire audio-visual collection of a Victorian secondary college from the late 1970s.

While seeking to document and explore the world’s creations, these collections inevitably record the shadow left by the eye, hand and mind of their creators. Students in the 70s were taught that “Man has learned to adapt the environment to his needs and so is largely independent”.  The plant biologist studies the resilience of introduced crops ignoring the productive indigenous grasses growing alongside.

Paul pulls on these threads to see what happens.  He mutates the images through duplication, acrylic image transfer, programmed light effects, repetitive resin casting, slide projection and sculptural installation.

The works explore the interplay between positive and negative space, confirmed and challenged biases and the degradation and adaptation that arises from repetitive duplication.  Through this Paul examines a paradox in human perception – how our biases and beliefs shape what we see and what we don’t.

Right Justification

Right Justification Installation View – Kodak Ektapro Slide Projector, 81 35mm slides, plastic Sebel chair
Hanging by a Thread exhibition at Alternating Currents Arts Space, High Street Windsor, February to March 2021

This installation is a response to the Population Ecology series of 35mm slides discovered while delving into the trove of AV material from the Marborough Secondary College in Victoria. This particular series explored seven different species and their adaptation to the environment. The seventh species was man. The distinguishing charateristic of man, so the lesson goes, is the extent to which he has adapted the evironment, rather than the other way around. This is such a profound and ingrained way of thinking and believing, that it must also affect our ability to perceive and see what is actually going on around us. Can we break out of this mode of belief?

The installation contains a 35mm slide projector showing the single slide Population case study no. 7, man on infinite repeat. The viewer is not alone, as the memory of past viewers is implied through the empty chairs – the whole piece reading as a fragment of a memory. Perhaps by looking at our past selves being taught this lesson, we can separate ourselves from the belief system that it perpetuates?

Salvage Ecology

Salvage Ecology – Installation view. Etched acrylic sheet, 750 epoxy resin discs, metal fixative, Corumbydium, 200 poa morissii seedlings in salvaged HIKO pots
Hanging by a Thread exhibition at Alternating Currents Arts Space, High Street Windsor, February to March 2021.

The Volcanic Temperate Grasslands of Western Victoria are critically endangered. Salvage Ecology is an invitation to a conversation about that, and hopefully a provocation to action. The work features 200 seedlings of Poa Morissii, or velvety tussock grass, a species previously endemic to the region.

The term salvage ecology is borrowed from the concept of salvage anthropology, which describes the now discredited practice of anthropologists engaging with indigenous peoples to document them ‘for science’ before their inevitable demise.

In Salvage Ecology the negative image or shadow of the human figure has regenerated as indigenous grass, surrounded by 750 epoxy resin discs, with a palette drawn from the ‘heat map’ charts that describe the destruction of the ecology for the many government reports that document its demise.


If:then – Installation view. Ardiuno Uno microprocessor, programmable LEDs, aluminum channel, 16 perspex blocks, acrylic medium, slide images
Hanging by a Thread exhibition at Alternating Currents Arts Space, High Street Windsor, February to March 2021

If:then is a work inspired by the personal scientific image collection of Dr Edward Higgs, who worked across South Australia as a plant biologist through the 1960s to 1980s. Higgs word focussed on improving the productivity of introduced grass species, by improving their drought and salt tolerance. If:then fast forwards the viewer to a dystopian world where grasses no longer grow at all, and a field of grass is recreated based on these found images as a kind of museum exhibit, but without the context and ecosystem references available to us today.

If:then challenges us to ask question about the scientific method and our personal investment in the status quo. How do we value nature? How can we understand the consequences of our actions/inactions? What is the value of a life’s work? If we believe it then will we see it?

The Getty Garden, Los Angeles, 23 March 2016, 11:30am

It has taken me five years finally to return to the Getty Museum to visit Robert Irwin’s garden.  In 2011 I visited the Getty Museum high above LA, but missed the garden altogether, too overwhelmed by the arrival, the buildings and the collection to realise that an even more extraordinary experience was waiting for me a few steps away. I made an attempt to see it with my family in 2013, but jetlag got the better of us.

In 2011, I had arrived at the Getty having just seen Irwin speak at the LA County Museum of Art. Reading the book of his interviews “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees” inspired me subsequently to enrol in Contemporary Art History and research Irwin and his art in some depth.

So to say there was some build up to this present visit is an understatement.

Robert Irwin began his artistic practice in the 1950s with abstract expressionist works characteristic of the times. Not satisfied – he calls them “brown scratchings” now – he began a remarkable career of continuous innovation, along the way cofounding the Light and Space Movement in the 70s, and then branching out into installation art – first with ephemeral interventions within the art museum context, and subsequently with major external public commissions.

With the Getty garden, Irwin’s journey seems to have come full circle – he started with a strong desire for his art to leave the confines of the two dimensional frame, then for his art to leave the wall and influence the viewers’ perceptual experience of the art space, then leave the confines of the gallery altogether, only now to return to provide a fundamental framing experience for a whole museum.  This is an astounding achievement.

As I sit to write this in the Getty garden, at last, on a bench in the dappled shade of a crepe myrtle, the smell of garlic reminds me of my Nanna’s garden, and memories come to me of that wonderland – gone now, like the Hanging Garden – the myth still growing with each remembered scent.


Through a series of steel and herbaceous brush strokes, Irwin’s criss-crossing pathways promote the release of external pressures and provide sensory milestones that encourage me to feel like I am walking through a giant artwork. But nothing prepared me for the emotional impact of the central azalea water maze. The last place I felt this strongly about a man made landscape was the Taj Mahal.


Given there was some controversy surrounding Irwin’s selection for the Getty Garden commission over Richard Meier, the architect of the Getty Museum itself, it would not have been unexpected to feel a sense of competition, or at least an assertion of conflicting ideologies, between built form and landscape, straight lines and organic sweeps.  But Irwin is evidently a generous man, as the garden more than respects its neoclassical surrounds – the central water feature finds its source in an amphora shaped cavern, certain vistas align with buildings, and certain plant choices relate to choices of building material (such as the bark of the plane trees and the patina of the travertine blocks).

As artists for centuries have striven to understand and interact with the multiple perspectives of the viewer, it is interesting to contemplate how the garden provides a possible resolution.  No two viewing experiences are the same, and one returns each time to a different garden, through seasonal changes, time of day, weather, and inevitable death and decay (of plant and person).  The gift of the gardener is to curate a platform for an infinite variety of individual experiences.

But in the face of this plurality, in the end Irwin guides us to the “power spot”, a place more awe inspiring than the buildings’ formal symmetry could have achieved alone.  At this single point, looking back, the entire site is in perspective – a special case within a much broader experience.


Irwin’s achievement is stunning, demonstrating once again his ability to innovate across multiple decades and different media.  The only puzzle to me is why this artist is not better known.  Perhaps his shape shifting has worked against his fame, but I sense that means not a lot to Irwin, who is more than prepared to let his work speak for itself.