The Art of Steven Durbach

A brief interview with artist Steve Durbach (aka Sid Sledge)

Steve Durbach is a very creative and engaging character – artist and ex-scientist, he originally hails from South Africa where he had researched and lectured in the area of molecular genetics, and since 2008 has called Australia home. I first met Steve a few years ago and have witnessed his intriguing artistic progression. Initially Steve was still finding his artistic feet and experimenting with a range of media, but over the last few years has zoned in on his scientific roots with a series of works that explore different concepts including evolution and genetic mutation, chaos and order, and the psychology of self. His home studio in Sydney is a hotspot of spontaneous combustion – both in terms of ideas and art-making. Steve is a very literate and articulate guy but despite this he can sometimes come across as a little crazy, so without knowing what to expect I asked him some questions about his recent work. Here’s what transpired.

BH: Steve, you seem to have an affinity for birds and fish – they often appear in your art, are they metaphors and, if so, for what exactly?

SD: Yes I have a lot of affinity for fish and birds.. they are clearly symbolic and their meaning plays on different levels.. when I first started painting I noticed that I always painted fish.. and in a macabre way – they were either dead or had their back-ends half a fish. I started to see them as self portraits.. I once painted a picture called ‘fish self portrait where I had a fish painting a picture of itself but seeing me in the mirror! I only started painting birds in recent years,, and the birds only took to flight in the last 2 years. This has come to represent for me, my own emergence as an artist.. where once I was a fish out of water lately I have become the bird – taken to flight – as I emerge into myself.

BH: Are their religious connotations?

SD: Biblically, my obsession with fish and birds came about through reading Genesis.. a story which has held huge power for me.. primarily as a document which is grappling and meditating on our own coming to terms with an awareness of ourselves. I happened also to read that it was on the 5th day of creation that both winged creatures of the air (birds!) as well as creatures of the sea (fish!) were created. So much of my work speculates on that origin.. and it fascinates me that things needed to take to the air and waters before we could emerge.. I wonder how that sits in our consciousness! I explore these ideas – hoping that in the unconscious musings.. things / revelations can manifest into some clarity… fish and birds.. are ways we explore different realms of ourselves.. accessible through flight or in the murkier depths.

BH: In relation to one of your signature artworks (“The effect of butterflies on boat building blocks” see image pictured above), what is it about the butterflies…. is this relating to the famed butterfly effect? Or is there something about butterflies you also identify with?

SD: No.. you nailed that one.. I was fascinated by the emergence of the overall form through the introduction of ‘errors’.. or rather irregularities of the building blocks.

BH:  This artwork seems to explore the subtle amplification of individual mutations on the repeating pattern, similar to that experienced in biology and indeed other natural phenomena. If you were to mutate your own genes what traits would you alter and why?

SD: Ooh.. that’s a hard one! Going to have to think about it.. but I am pretty certain my answer would be none of them… I like the challenge of manoeuvering my way somewhat awkwardly.. oddly.. curiously..  lovingly.. through this world… seeing how far I can go with the lot I have.

BH: And finally, staying with the same theme, do you believe there is a genetic basis for enhanced creativity in different fields – be it art or science?

SD: I would say there is.. but it would not be a gene for creativity (obviously).. but a whole bunch of genes with subtle effects.. perhaps an obvious one..  genes that control ‘risk ‘… taking… but with any complex trait there will be a massive environmental component.. i.e. we can learn to greater or lesser extents (depending on the genetic constraint) to be more creative.. or our environments may induce greater creativity… i.e. stressful situations could ‘bring out’ more creative aspects of ourselves.

Thanks Steve! More of Steve Durbach’s art can be seen at


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