On the edge of creation
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
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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
"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
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
"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
Paul McGowan's Living on the Edge exhibition can be seen now
in the Eden Project's Mediterranean Biome. Visit