I feel that I was born, not made an artist, though as I child I thought that I might be a writer instead. I became addicted to photography as a teenager and became a collagist in frustration with photography. As someone wrote lately, my work, especially the form of photocollage “is based in specific experiences” of growing up in conflict-era Northern Ireland. I have always been fascinated by human nature and behavior and attempting to understand the state of the world; and I have always wanted to engage in and change it for the better, but also aware that the process might be the destination and that the art is in the making of it. I discovered recently that I have high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome.
I have always wanted to make work that is ‘something you have never seen before’ but also something you can get something out of every day. I want it to be multilayered, to work in different ways. I am proud that the work has been admired by intellectuals, but can appeal to a wide public and that the images have been published for instance on over 40 book covers. I am inclined to take on “hard” subjects like conflict, and the darker aspects of human experience but retain a belief that art can have a valuable transformative and transcendent effect and be a vital part of our evolution as individuals and society.
I also believe in the transformative and transcendent power of sheer beauty, as being critically valuable in itself.
Born on the day Gagarin went to space, in Newry, Northern Ireland, Hillen lives and works in Dublin. He studied at Belfast College of Art, the London College of Printing and at the Slade School London. His 1980’s photo-montage works, based on his own documentary photographs; mostly made and exhibited when he lived in London, engaged myths related to the Northern Ireland conflict. The photos themselves have since been acquired as a Permanent Collection by the Irish National Library and published as Melancholy Witness by the History Press. It was republished in the US as a paperback in 2017. The “IRELANTIS” series begun after he moved back to Ireland in the 1990’s are mostly based on the already-hyperreal postcards of John Hinde and have themselves become part of the Irish cultural landscape, widely studied and published on over 40 book covers etc. His series in the 2000’s; “Searching for Evidence..” and “What’s Wrong? with The Consolations of Genius..” related to the aftermath of 9/11 and his own diagnosis in 2015 with Asperger’s Syndrome. He recently began new series incorporating kittens into large scale work based on the Sistine Chapel.
His work has been published on over 40 book and magazine covers etc. and is widely discussed and studied. He was awarded an Arts Council of Ireland Major Bursary in 2015. A cinema-length documentary on his life commissioned for Irish television is scheduled for release in 2020, and a book of his collages designed by Erik Kessels is in development.