Paul Eyles (1954-2014) is a New Zealand artist who began painting full time in his early 20s. He was born and grew up in Christchurch where he attended Canterbury University School of Fine Arts. His work spans many themes from landscape to still life, to portraiture and figuration.
Over 40 years he developed his own modernist style—one that reflected both his spirituality and his love for the everyday world around him. He found great pleasure in his garden, fruits and vegetables, his pets, and the striking landscape of the Banks Peninsula.
When he was in his 20s he spent time in France where he immersed himself in art museums and galleries. The influence of French impressionists can be seen in his early works. In the 1980s and ‘90s he visited Indonesia twice, staying in Cilandak, Jakarta. He spent time in Cibulan, a mountainous region in Bogor, south of Jakarta, and also visited central Java. Religious motifs and symbols from Indonesian culture feature in some paintings from this period.
His Jewish identity was important to him and much of his later work draws on religious themes and stories from Jewish tradition. Other works from this same period depict Biblical scenes, while some feature Islamic traditions and ceremonies relating to prayer and sacrifice. Some, such as a crucifixion of Christ wearing a Jewish prayer shawl, meld both Jewish and Christian iconography. His works bring together themes of suffering, sacrifice, surrender and revelation that are common to Judaism, Islam and Christianity— reflecting, perhaps, his belief that the distance between religions is less than we might think.
Throughout his life Eyles’ commitment was exclusively to his painting and he had little interest in promoting himself as an artist or in marketing his work. As a result, his great body of work and significant contribution to art in New Zealand and internationally remains largely unknown.