Seán Hillen's photomontages are very appealing and accessible to young people. They juxtapose and manipulate identities and landscapes that are familiar yet iconic. Buildings and environments are rearranged and constructed creating strange landscapes and making new meanings of all that is familiar. The processes of montage / collage and use of accessible materials also lends itself to a type of brainstorming which is all about exploring how we see and rethink the world we live in.
Seán Hillen was born in 1961 in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland, and studied at the Belfast College of Art, the London College of Printing and the Slade School, London. He now lives and works in Dublin.
Seán Hillen was eight years old and living in Newry during The Troubles. ’It says much for his sense of humour, irony, and wonderment at the wider world that he produced a long series of montages called & quote; Newry Gargarin & quote;. Even in this early work, rooted in the grubby and mundane, there is something transcendent about Seán Hillen's vision’.
This personal perspective is strengthened by the fact that he is a photographer, generating much of his own raw material. Another favourite source is the picture postcard, a telling combination of the ordinary and the sublimely romantic. His technique involves a scalpel and a microscope, but the intention is not artifice: many of Hillen's photomontages don't fit easily in their frames. He wants you to know that these have been made, and not just taken.
After studying at art school in London, he now lives in Dublin, and his more recent work, which is highlighted here, illustrates a more settled Ireland, after the & quote; peace process.& quote;. His mythical Irelantis is a place where anything goes: wild flights of fancy, musings on the place of the new Ireland in the worlds of politics and imagination.
There are still the undercurrents of foreboding, but now the sources of danger are not parochial, but much more universal and even grandiose. Meteors and maelstroms are a threat to us all on a vulnerable planet, but it is to the whole planet that Hillen now looks for his inspiration. He seems to be saying: tread carefully and look after this wonderful place because we live in an age when we are fortunate enough to still have all this, and it may not always be so.
'Irelantis' is the theme and collective title of a body of paper collages first made by Irish artist Seán Hillen between 1994 and '98. Since 2005 Seán has made some new Irelantis works. Using a scalpel and glue and sometimes a microscope, Seán mixed fragments of postcards and other 'found materials' in elaborate compositions to create a fantastic but seemingly possible Other place, where the Pyramids nestle in Carlingford Lough, John Hinde's freckled-faced children collect meteorites outside the Observatory at Knowth, and Newry Gagarin, the celebrated cosmonaut, hovers over the Dublin streets.