Born in 1961 in Newry, N.Ireland., Hillen lives and works in Dublin. He studied at Belfast College of Art, London College of Printing and the Slade School of Fine Art.
A ‘traditional’ collagist whose work has both popular and intellectual appeal, Hillen, regarded as one of the most significant Irish artists of his generation, and one of the most widely-published, is also probably the most censored in Ireland and Britain in the period.
He first gained notice in the U.K. for his early works based on his own photos from the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ era. The photos themselves were hidden for nearly 20 years except being used as source material for photomontages.
The resulting photomontages were widely published at the time and are now studied as examples of the medium and used in education on the subject of conflict.
One of several in the Permanent Collection of the Imperial War Museum was recently published as frontispiece to their definitive publication “Art from Contemporary Conflict”.
They have also featured in publications by the National Museums of Northern ireland, and on the new ACNI site: http://www.troublesarchive.com/index.php/artists/sean-hillen
In 1990 he won first prize regionally and second prize nationally in the UK Design Council ‘Year of Invention’ competition, with a design for a new kind of printing machine.
In the early 1990’s he moved to Dublin and began a new series titled ‘IRELANTIS’, which have come to be described as “the most vivid and emblematic expression of the dreams and anxieties of ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland”- and have themselves become part of the cultural landscape, for instance featuring on the covers of over 30 books, magazines and journals, and themselves the subject of academic study.
His collage series ‘Searching for Evidence..’ from 2007 and “WHAT’S WRONG? with The Consolations of Genius” in 2011 refer to issues of ‘cognitive dissonance’ in the wake of the 9/11 events, and were the subject of a panel discussion at a major Sociology conference in 2015.
In 2011 the National Library of Ireland Photographic Archive acquired as a separate Permanent collection his complete archive of photos from the ‘Troubles’ era, and exhibited them drawing 17,000 visitors in 2012, and in 2013 they were published as ‘Melancholy Witness’ by The History Press in Ireland and republished in 2014 in the U.S. by Trafalgar Square Press.
The book was one of only two Irish books featured in ‘Publisher’s Weekly’ annual US review, and is now widely distributed, for instance on the ‘Walmart’ website.
He was featured with a full biography in the definitive Royal Irish Academy’s “art & Architecture of Ireland” published in 2013; his work is ‘Figure 2.’in the recent history “Photography & Ireland” and also the cover of “Art in Ireland Since 1910”, and in Autumn 2015 Irish Arts Review.
He has also executed commissions and collaborations including video for Sony Music/Super Furry Animals; stage design, advertisements, title graphics and permanent sculptures for Citi Group and Dublin City Council.
He won the international design competition, with landscape architect Desmond Fitzgerald, for the Omagh Bomb Memorial unveiled in August 2008.
His work is in many private and public collections including the Irish State Collection, Permanent Collection of the Imperial War Museum (works on permanent exhibition), National Library of Ireland, National Museums Northern Ireland, Wolverhampton Museum, MoMA, Allied Irish Bank, the European Central Bank, The Irish Central Bank, Citigroup SA, Aspen Re. (through the Contemporary Art Society), the BBC and Microsoft Ltd.
He has won several awards and prizes including a major bursary from the Irish Arts Council in 2015. Also in 2015 Erik Kessels designed the book ‘The Wonderful World of Seán Hillen” to be published 2016. In 2017 the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast will host ‘100 WORKS’ the first major Seán Hillen retrospective, a 35-year survey show.