Paul Kilsby

Lecturer in Fine Art Theory


Work by Paul Kilsby

Paul Kilsby is a very experienced lecturer and a practising artist who has exhibited nationally and internationally. He has a particular interest in combining theory and practice. Although he initially studied and exhibited sculpture, since completing his Ph D at the Royal College of Art, his principal medium has been photography. His research revolves around models of perception and representation, drawing upon various disciplines including cognitive psychology and visuality studies.

Throughout his career Kilsby has been striving to look beyond but nonetheless incorporate traditional methods of visual expression while challenging viewers to question the way we perceive art. One of the subjects that the artist explores in his work is the ambivalent relationship between photography and painting and he is naturally drawn to such artists as Vermeer who began to experience and represent the world 'photographically' through his use of the camera obscura. In his earlier series of black and white photographs, The Seer and The Seen and After Vermeer, Kilsby created images in which he used reproductions of master paintings and presented them in a fresh and unfamiliar context by creating small scale tableaux, freely mixing these painted images with three dimensional objects. After spending many days arranging the new composition and lighting the ensemble so that the shadows corroborate and fuse the real and the represented, Kilsby finally makes his exposure. This has become the distinctive signature of his approach. After purchasing a number of photographs for the permanent archive of the Bibiothèque Nationale in Paris, the director, Claude Lemagny wrote: "A refined and visionary photographer, Paul Kilsby transcends the confines of different epochs in his exploration of our common cultural past. Graced by the magic of his perfect technique, these highly original photographs fuse their sources to yield new hybrid images which sustain our fascination by their visual logic."

A recent series, Trompe l'Oeil, seeks to push this fusion to a further level. The tradition of trompe l’oeil painting extends back as far as the Greeks and Romans but reached its peak in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, with a further resurgence in the Nineteenth Century. These painters all sought to paint their subjects with such a degree of naturalism that the viewer might be deceived, even if only for a moment, into confusing the representation for the real thing. In Kilsby’s photographs, the integration of reproductions and real objects is, at times, seamless. Placing the various elements into a niche concentrates the arena for this visual deception. Some of these niches are from paintings, others are constructed by the artist. Moreover, many of the elements are faux – that is, the textures and materials are painted simulations, so that the marble spheres and cones in these photographs, for example, are not what they appear. This project calls into question traditional hierarchies of realism and decisively questions photography's primary claim to visual truth.

Kilsby's iconography is eclectic and informed by his background in art history and theory. The subject matter for this series pays homage to the so-called Cabinets of Curiosity or Wunderkammer, showcases of the encyclopaedic but erratic collections of aristocrats such as Rudolph II of Prague. These would often include taxidermy specimens, rare birds' eggs, fossils, mathematical models, exotic religious artefacts, astronomical apparatus, wax anatomical models, and a myriad host of other exotic oddities. Central to the phenomenon was a sense of delight in the sheer diversity of nature and culture – a wonder that Kilsby reflects in his unexpected commingling of the extraordinary and the everyday. In his related series Lux, his subjects are coated with luminous paint and then exposed to ultra-violet light. Once this light source has been extinguished, plunging the scene into total darkness, the objects continue to glow dimly. Using very extended exposures, Kilsby captures this waning light to create the photographic exposures.

Current project

In a new project, Kilsby is again drawing inspiration from painting, particularly the Ward Collection of Dutch and Flemish Still Life Painting in the Ashmolean Musuem in Oxford. In their frequently elaborate still life compositions of flowers, Dutch artists sometimes included examples of specimens in a single painting which, in reality, could not possibly be in bloom at the same time. Despite the stunning realism of the painters’ techniques, they felt the need or desire to deliver an ‘enhanced’ version of what reality could offer. Inspired by this, and in indirect allusion to contemporary efforts to improve on nature through genetic modification, Kilsby has created impossible hybrid flowers which he then lights and documents in a style reminiscent of those paintings which acted as points of departure.

Undergraduate teaching

Paul delivers the Postmodernisms Module U65504 (First Year) and the Fine Art Theory: Critical Issues in Contemporary Art Module, U65526 (Second Year), as well as contributing to the supervision of the Third Year Critical Essay U65571. In addition Paul teaches in the studio to First and Third Year Fine art students.

Postgraduate teaching

Paul is involved in PhD supervision.

Research dissemination

Paul Kilsby has work included in private and public collections in the UK, the USA, France, Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Russia. Kilsby has exhibited in London, Bath, Birmingham, Oxford, Aberystwyth, Newcastle, Plymouth and, further afield, in New York, Los Angeles, Istanbul, Paris, Madrid, Perm (in Russia), Plovdiv (Bulgaria), etc. Kilsby has worked as an External Examiner at The University of the Creative Arts, Rochester, Falmouth College of Art and Southampton Solent University on undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

Link to website:


School of Arts

Oxford Brookes University
Headington Campus
Gipsy Lane
Oxford, OX3 0BP