Seán Hillen first became known for photomontage works based on his own documentary photos from the era of the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’, made over the period 1982-93.
He was born in 1961 in Newry, Co. Down, studied at Belfast College of Art, the London College of Printing and the Slade School of Fine Art. In the 1990’s he moved to Dublin from London and began a new series of collage works collectively titled ‘IRELANTIS’, which has since also become well-known and widely admired. Seamus Heaney opened that exhibition and Fintan O’Toole wrote the introduction for the book. Reproductions of many of the pieces now grace the covers of contemporary academic publications, particularly on Irish subjects.
He has also executed several commissions and collaborations including video for Super Furry Animals and the Re-Joyce Festival; stage design; advertisements; title graphics for BBC TV; permanent sculptures for Citigroup SA and Dublin City Council; an education project with Amnesty International, and special effects and props for theatre.
In 2007 he won the international design competition, with Landscape Architect Desmond Fitzgerald, for the Omagh Bomb Memorial, which was unveiled in August 2008.
His work is in many private and public collections including several in the Permanent Collection of the Imperial War Museum London with some on permanent exhibition at IWM North; in that of Allied Irish Banks; the Irish State Collection; the European Central Bank, The Irish Central Bank; and Microsoft Ltd.
He won the Prankerd-Jones Memorial Prize in the Slade School in 1986 and ’87; the Laura Ashley Memorial Gift in 1990, and several other awards and prizes.
Recent works has included “Melancholy Witness”, first published by The History Press, Dublin 2013. This collection of 120 of Seán Hillen’s acclaimed collection of black-and-white documentary photographs from ‘Troubles’-era Northern Ireland, (recently acquired as a Permanent Collection by The National Library of Ireland) was published in the US by Trafalgar Square Press / IPG in 2014.
“Growing up in Newry in the 1970s I was profoundly affected by the conflict happening around us, becoming familiar with the sound of gun battles every night to the point that we were able to identify weapons and rounds fired, and I personally got slightly involved in stone-throwing as a young teenager.I was lucky to realise the danger and fruitlessness of this and channeled my energies into I thought more creative pursuits, becoming an obsessive photographer as a teenager and taking many photos during the 1980s of what was happening around me, and traveling backwards and forwards from London to do so.”