Each photograph in the series TROMPE L'OEIL is made up of a mixture of real, physical objects and two-dimensional reproductions. Traditionally, trompe l'oeil paintings seek to deceive the eye, the viewer seduced by the image's plausible accumulation of texture, form, lighting. These photographs belong to that tradition but specifically seek to compound the duplicity of the genre by collapsing 'first hand' representations of objects with 'second hand' existing representations.

 Cornelis Gijbrechts, 1670




A specific form of trompe l'oeil is used in painting simulated materials such as marble or wood. These simulations, sometimes of uncanny realism, offer the luxurious appearance of expensive materials without the difficulty and expense of sourcing and preparing the actual materials. It might seem that such substitutes would always invite criticism as lowly imposters,  inevitably vastly inferior to 'the real thing'.  However, when practised with great skill, prestige accrued to 'masters of faux', even to the extent that the simulated materials might be selected over and above the real materials as demonstrations of skill and, of course, as a form of conversation piece.  In the photographs, many of these faux techniques are used.

  faux bird's-eye maple



An inspiration for this project is drawn from Pliny's account, in the Natural Histories, of what might be considered the epitome of trompe l'oeil realism as a goal in itself. Pliny describes the annual contest held in Athens in which the city's foremost painters vied for supremacy in the realism of their depictions of the world. After many hours of scrutiny by the judges, the field was finally narrowed to two finalists: Zeuxis and Parrhasios.  Zeuxis confidently displayed a masterful jewel of naturalism: a bowl of grapespainted with such fidelity to every nuance of colour, form and texture that the birds themselves flew down from the sky to eat the delectable fruit. Everyone present assumed that this unwitting testimony of the birds confirmed Zeuxis' place as the deserving winner of the competition. Almost as an afterthought, the judges asked Parrhasios to pull away the piece of cloth covering his painting. Parrhasios, wearing an impassive face, declared that this would not be possible. The judges insisted. Parrhasios leaned forward and attempted to remove the fabric but, of course, the cloth was a painted depiction. To the sound of admiring gasps, Parrhasios was  declared the indisputable winner on the spot, for whereas Zeuxis had been able to deceive the creatures of Nature, Parrhasios had deceived Man himself.



Paul Kilsby, After Oudry 



Another inspiration for this series of photographs comes from those 'cabinets of curiosity' that were assembled by aristocrats of the great European courts from the sixteenth century onwards. Rare and exotic objects, such as taxidermy specimens of unlikely creatures, automata, giant moths, misshapen eggs and other freaks of nature,  were collected and displayed in wooden cabinets. These would be shown to privileged guests who would wonder at the extraordinary diversity and nature of the objects on view which might include artifacts of geology, anthropology, ethnography and archaeology, sometimes with religious and historical relics and works of art. One of the most extraordinary collections was compiled by Rudolf II of Prague.

Some of the photographs in this series pay homage to this rich source of inspiration, such as the inclusion of an Atticus moth from South East Asia, the largest moth in the world.








Most of the photographs in this series use the niche as a setting for the objects.  Some of the niches are real, others are painted.  In general, a niche serves to isolate a hallowed space:  objects placed within a niche are given a heightened presence. This device is inspired by the illusionist painted stone niches sometimes seen in Renaissance interiors. These in turn might be inspired by the xenia of the classical Greek world. As a symbolic gesture of welcome to guests, the visitors' rooms in wealthy homes were sometimes painted with trompe l'oeil niches housing illusionistic food and drink, known as xenia, which is itself also the name of the concept of hospitality and courtesy offered to strangers in the ancient world. Examples of these wall paintings may be found at Herculaneum. Much later, seventeenth century Dutch artists often painted their subjects, such as bouquets of flowers, within a painted niche. The effect enhances the illusionism they sought.


In Japan, tokonama is the term for a recessed area, alcove or niche in the main reception room. This privileged space is reserved for objects selected for aesthetic contemplation by the family and guests, often a fine calligraphy scroll or ikebana.  Kilsby was inspired by the tokonama in the home in which he stayed in Nara in Japan.

Paul exhibited with Nicholas Middleton at Hoopers Gallery in 2007. Please visit Nick's website to view his astonishing trompe l'oeil paintings: NICHOLAS MIDDLETON