Nicole Tilley


A Masters graduate of the National College of Art and Design, Ireland (2011), Tilley is the recipient of numerous awards such as Arts Council Visual Arts Bursary Award (2020), Creative Work Development Bursary, Kerry County Council (2020), RHA Really Helping Artist Award (2020), Materials and Equipment Bursary, Kerry County Council (2016); Professional Practice Award, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Council (2013); AXA Insurance Purchase Award (2009); Graphic Studio Dublin Graduate Award (2009); and Black Church Print Studio Access Award, Dublin (2009). She is a full-time member of Black Church Print Studio since 2011.

Artist Statement

An essential theme in my work is, ‘in-between-ness’. Of particular interest are ‘in-between’ psychological conditions. My work explores psychological, spiritual and terrestrial thresholds. Following an unprovoked life-threatening attack in 2017, an ensuing traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress symptoms, I have become increasingly interested in how we navigate fear, anxiety and recovery.

Trading in metaphors, I use materials, motifs, objects, processes, aesthetics and ideas that operate symbolically. I allude to folk tales, folk magic, folklore, mythology, interior domestic crafts and decorations, psychoanalysis and rite of passage customs. This multidisciplinary approach connects the historically overlooked arts and crafts practices that were conducted by marginalised women inside the home with mountain and maritime superstitions, gothic ghost media, fairy art, the miniature, classical childhood literature and 1920’s book illustration. My work affirms an abiding pre-occupation with the transformative power of light and shadow and I remain open to new discoveries.

Intrigued with paper cutting, I have developed an original method of cut paper fragment sculpture. This involves creating, extracting, cutting out and cutting up silhouette imagery in to numerous paper fragments which are painstakingly re-pieced. Embedded within these collaged relief and three dimensional forms are visual narratives that point to covert female histories. The meticulous practice of cutting intricate, miniature paper imagery in silhouette brings attention to the present and can calm fearful thoughts. In this small act of mastery, fears are miniaturised and rendered as illustrations in a picture book that can be closed and put away. Although paper is a delicate material it is capable of inflicting cuts. Paper cutting is a process which simultaneously enacts and separates. With these ideas in mind, my work explores mental health experiences around
post traumatic stress, anxiety, confinement, isolation and healing.

I have created an archive of original miniature cut paper silhouette symbols. This pictorial silhouette language addresses hidden experiences of fear and trauma and the precipitous nature of recovery. It alludes to magic scripts, folk magic, folktales and feminine mythologies; particularly those that involve shape shifting she-beings. As words to an author, this symbol script provides the means and material through which I can communicate. I view this process as a spell, in that it enacts a change or revelation. As art objects can be regarded as conduits of transformation, I see connections between my position and historical female practitioners of folk magic. Like these women, I spend a lot of time alone in an interior space engaged in the creation of objects that are imbued with transformative power. I investigate my working process with these ideas in mind and use it as a tool to ensnare hidden anxieties. My aim is for this activity to bring about transformation and to throw light upon veiled mental health experiences.

I was recently drawn to this apposite quote, ‘Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering it will be happier’. I am currently working with a collection of tiny wallpaper fragments that survived beneath a palimpsest of subsequent layers for over a century. I salvaged these fragile survivors from a derelict 19th century mountain farmhouse that is undergoing restoration. In what feels like a vibrant act of defiance, they reveal a beautiful pattern full of the hope, promise and colour of spring. These are providing rich source material for new work.