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On the edge of creation

By This is Devon  |  Posted: August 16, 2008

  • A rare moment – Paul relaxes!

  • Renowned artist and former paratrooper Paul McGowan hangs his giant abstract paintings from the rafters in the Mediterranean Biome at the Eden Project

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LIVING on the Edge is an appropriate title for a collection

of paintings by a highly acclaimed artist who is anything but

conventional. Being winched high above ground in the Eden

Project's Mediterranean Biome to hang his bold and substantial

creations from the rafters is another welcome leap into the

unknown for Paul McGowan – who frequently paints into the

night, often wearing sunglasses, and listening to Captain

Beefheart records.

"I know exactly what my paintings are going to look like, so

I don't need to see them in daylight," says Paul, who has set

up shop in a beach hut-style studio in the grounds of Eden –

complete with surfboard and electric guitar – for the duration

of his 12-month residency at the project.

"You have to commit to being a resident here and I didn't

want to fake it. I felt that being here would have a positive

effect on me because it is a very positive environment.

"It's great that I can wander around where I want and get a

real feeling for the place. I've sort of moved in now and I

know everyone here. I like it late at night when no-one's here

and thinking how there will be thousands of people all over the

place in the morning.

"I have to work when the urge takes me. Many a night myself

and my assistant Andrew Emery are in this workshop until 6am,"

adds Paul, who usually works in his studio in Bath, the town

where he returns at weekends to be with his girlfriend and

young family.

He's no stranger to Cornwall, though. Originally from

Margate, Paul is a fanatical surfer. He lived in Newquay for

years, studied at Falmouth ("it's a brilliant art school") and

had his first major show at the Salthouse Gallery, St Ives, in

1996 while still a first year student.

Now 41, he left school at 15 with no qualifications and he's

been painting since he was 18 and fresh out of the Parachute


"They told me at school I could become a drug dealer, a

thief, or join the Army," laughs Paul.

By happy accident he fell into the fashion industry and at

20 became the youngest ever designer to sell a collection to

prestigious London fashion house Browns.

Unsurprisingly he thrives on fresh challenges, always

pushing himself away from the familiar into the unknown.

"Once you have a vein of paintings that sells and makes you

money, that's the time to start a whole new body of work," he


As he speaks, Paul's gaze suddenly falls on a tiny gnat-like

winged insect that has one of its legs stuck in the thick

grass-green paint of one of his works in progress.

"It's doing a handstand, now," he observes, trying to free

it carefully, without damaging its tethered limb. The creature

escapes, but its leg remains firmly stuck, as if determined to

become part of the painting.

"At least most of it got away," shrugs Paul, moving swiftly

on to his next focus, eyes darting from painting to painting.

There are a dozen or more on the go at any one time.

"I have no patience to watch paint dry," he admits,

surveying the images made up of layers of striking

primary-bright household paint, some just starting life and

others almost complete.

"I use all different paints mixed together – I used to put

them in the liquidiser to get them ready but I don't now."

Paul's first major brief for Eden, resulting in this

exhibition of two huge images and 12 slightly smaller works on

easels – his first large-scale paintings for six years – looks

at the notion of threatened species, their existence controlled

and defined by mankind, reminding us what nature gives us and

helping us learn how to look after it.

Wildlife paintings are interspersed with abstract mask

images, pieced together from anatomical elements of extinct or

endangered animals.

"I wanted this to be different to anything I have ever done

before," admits the man with very itchy feet who is a bundle of

adrenalin one moment, but drifts into laid-back cogitation in a


"I want people to find their own way around and I want

people to find something profound."

There's no doubt they will... and Paul will swiftly turn his

thoughts and energies to the next Eden art challenge. Watch

this space.

Paul McGowan's Living on the Edge exhibition can be seen now

in the Eden Project's Mediterranean Biome. Visit


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