John Boorman opens new show by Legends of the Fall illustrator Seán Hillen


Readers who enjoyed Seán Hillen’s wonderful illustrations to our Legends of the Fall short story series which ran earlier this year, and art lovers generally, should visit his latest exhibition, ,‘H2’: New work by Joby Hickey and Seán Hillen, which is launched tonight at 6.45pm, by film-maker John Boorman at Inspirational Arts, Basement, 7 Herbert Street, Dublin. and runs until January 30th, 2014.

Hillen’s work has circulated in the Irish consciousness for decades. Once seen, they are rarely forgotten; from his Troubles-era photos, which 17,000 people visited after their acquisition by the National Library last year, to the subsequent photocollages which hang permanently in the Imperial War Museum, London as well as elsewhere.

His IRELANTIS collages, mostly from the 1990s, are probably his most familiar and popular and have themselves become part of Irish history, appearing on over 30 book covers and the subject of academic studies.

Once referred to as “probably Ireland’s funniest artist”, he may also be one of its most trouble-making, quoting George Bernard Shaw: “The joke is... I’m serious!” After his provocative “WHAT’S WRONG with The Consolations of Genius” exhibition in 2011, Fintan O’Toole called him “a genuinely disturbing and subversive artist”.

His wit surfaced again when he took an unusual commission from The Irish Times to illustrate a series of short stories by some of the most interesting and prominent contemporary Irish writers. A selection of these forms the material of this show, including his astonishing image of an Icarus (borrowed from the ceiling of the Louvre) crashing down right in front of a speeding car on a modern Irish motorway.

Hickey’s work is distinctive, enjoyable, highly popular and rightly acclaimed. Beginning (and still continuing) as a painter, and then training in film, he eventually developed a very personal and recognisable style of boundary-crossing-photography.

A master of form and colour, he strives for sophistication through simplicity, and his often monochromatic works have a cinematic quality which appears to float between the blurred present, the familiar recent and the almost-forgotten.

He aims to capture a sense of spontaneity in a series of unplanned encounters, as seemingly random and meaningful as an unbidden memory or a dream. He speaks of being interested in capturing “a sense of having lost one’s bearings, sense of time..” but his images also convey “the crucial sense of life being lived off-camera” of a back-story and of a strange transience.

His pinhole and fixed-lens cameras are often hand-constructed from diverse and surprising parts, and he often even makes his own film and photographic plates.

The resulting images, already surprising and often mysterious despite their familiarity, are then subjected to equally idiosyncratic darkroom chemical processes which certainly bring them closer to painting than anything else.