Reincarnating The Selfish Giant

Beatrice Smith

Marching across a meadow of technicolour greens and blues, the Selfish Giant is reincarnated in a burst of rainbow illustrations by Canberra artist Paul Summerfield.

The short story, published by Oscar Wilde in 1888, has been brought to life in a hand-bound artist book created by Paul and will be exhibited in the Drill Hall Gallery later this month.

The Selfish Giant was published in the same collection of short stories that housed one of Wilde’s best known fairytales, The Happy Prince, however, as Paul explains, the other stories in the collection should be regarded as equally iconic.

“I wanted to create a treasure, basically. I have a close friend who has supported me in through lots of different projects across the years…we were thinking of my next project and he suggested The Selfish Giant,” says Paul, “it’s a really heartfelt tale and it could do with some really interesting illustrations.”

One of the illustrations from Paul's artist's book

One of the illustrations from Paul’s artist’s book

The Selfish Giant is set in a lush, hidden garden that forms the centrepiece of Paul’s illustrations. Paul began the project by creating a library of different illustrated plants on his computer, steadily compiling a collection until he was ready to build a garden by bringing the images together.

“I went to the botanical gardens and I drew plants. Within the last six months to a year I’ve been working towards a finished product – the book and the print series. It [was a] pretty non-linear process,” says Paul.

“If you look back on my other works, over the years I’ve done a lot of [botanical illustrations], a lot of plants; cities and nature juxtaposing,” says Paul.

Another illustration from Paul’s artist’s book


“I felt a bit nostalgic, reading [The Selfish Giant] again. I think when you’re an adult, reading [the story], you see it differently and I find it really intriguing. It’s such an old story. Some of it seems very out of place these days”

Paul says his illustrations don’t necessarily represent the exact timeline of the story. “I would say some of my illustrations represent the story quite literally but then they go to other places,” says Paul, “I introduced a robot instead of a giant, which ties into the story quite well because the Giant has a very cold, selfish heart.”

“You could [read the artist book] and follow the story quite literally but if you look closely you should be able to see those [interpretive] elements that I’ve put into it…the end of the story is quite biblical and I’ve interpreted that in a fairly literal way.”


The Selfish Giant artist's book by Paul Summerfield

The Selfish Giant artist’s book by Paul Summerfield

The exhibition of Paul’s illustrations and artists book – 20 pieces in total – will take place on Friday July 31 at the Drill Hall Gallery at the ANU. The exhibition will feature large prints of the illustrations accompanied by an audio book soundtrack of local theatrical actor Duncan Driver reading The Selfish Giant. The event will also feature a performance by musical duo Cracked Actor and there will be a simultaneous digital launch on August 1 on Paul’s website,

The prints themselves will be available for individual sale as well as the books themselves, which are made-to-order and hand bound locally by BookHaven Book Binding and Restoration in Queanbeyan.

“I want to portray the emotions of wonderment and imagination and the simple narrative of the story,” says Paul. “Even if you don’t like the story, I think you could still enjoy the artworks. Everyone interprets [the story] in their own ways.”



the essentials 

What: An exhibition of Paul Summerfield’s artworks and artist’s book The Selfish Giant 

Where: The Drill Hall Gallery at the Australian National University, Acton

When: Friday 31 July Exhibition Opening and Book Launch, 5-7pm. Exhibition runs from 31 July-9 August

Cost: Free


Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author

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