Stephen Tierney


Who is Stephen Tierney and what does he do?

Stephen Tierney is an Australian mixed media artist and graphic designer. He creates small floating worlds using found objects and images cut from old magazines. He also likes to talk about himself in the third person.


When did you first start playing around with collage as an art form?

I started playing around with what you’d call mixed media and versions of collage when I was in design school, around 1995. I was really into magazine design and I actually used to re-create page layouts by cutting and pasting images and text from other magazines into my own sketchbooks and zines. For a while I played around with a few different styles of mixed media that included a combination of collage, painting and silkscreen. I didn’t get into it seriously until about 2010. That was when I made a conscious decision to develop a style for myself and just work in the medium of collage. 


Who and/or what inspires you and your work?

I’m more inspired by music and writers than visual artists for sure. Usually whatever I’m listening to at the time is what is inspiring me. Certain musicians and bands have remained influential and inspiring over the years though. People like Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Bowie, Thom York, Michael Stipe, Bjork and The Stone Roses. I guess I have some favourite graphic artists who are inspiring, like David Carson, John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha. And of course there are contemporaries I’m following online who would inspire me indirectly and directly. But it’s mostly music and my own life experiences that influence and inspire my work day to day.


What's your creative space like?

I keep it fairly simple because I move around a lot. I don’t have a huge collection of books and magazines. I carry some of my favourite things with me and set up a new space wherever I’m living or visiting. It’s fun to shop around in a new city and find something to use from that place. In some ways the thought of having a studio space with hundreds of magazines and all kinds of crap actually scares me more than excites me. I like to be able to pick up and move on easily.


How would you describe your creative style or theme?

My style is very design driven and structured, while the themes remain more abstract and loose. I like to think of my artworks as floating worlds. When I look at them, they are three dimensional. The collage is kind of floating in space and the background is like the landscape or skyline where things are happening. 


What are some key things you consider when creating pieces?

Often there’s something that I want to say or a personal experience that comes through. I definitely have words or phrases in my head while I’m creating art pieces and feel a bit like I’m writing a poem or lyrics to a song using pictures. The final image always comes together by moving things around until it looks right. But I generally have a basic idea in mind when I start each piece.


Without giving up all your secrets, what is your artistic process when creating a work?

I tend to work fairly quickly. Most pieces don’t take more than a couple of days to be glued down. I generally have a background prepared, like an old book cover or just a torn piece of paper. Then begin with one or two key images that I want to include in the collage and go from there. While I’m working I often discover a new idea that doesn’t really fit with the piece I’m creating and I’ll have to start a second or third artwork at the same time. I almost always end up making a short series of pieces that include similar objects or content. I rarely make a one-off collage that stands on it’s own unless it’s a commissioned piece.


If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

If I could choose anyone, it would be Nick Cave. I’d pretty much just like to sit in a room and watch how he works. The guy is brilliant. I guess if we could collaborate on some kind of visual or graphic video that complemented his music and lyrics I’d be very happy.


Aside from creating your artworks, what else keeps you busy?

Like many collage artists I’m actually a full-time graphic designer. I run my own design consultancy with clients all over the world. That actually keeps me very busy, and is also why I’m able to move to different countries so easily. I’ve learned to make time to work on my collage though. This year in particular I’m really concentrating on my art and investing a lot of time and energy into its development. Other than that I still skateboard pretty regularly. Recently I’ve been trying to learn to surf. 


Any recent, current or future projects we should know about?

I have a large solo exhibition coming up in November of this year in my hometown of Sydney Australia. That will be a big project for me, and hopefully a big step forward in my artistic development. I also have some really fun projects coming out very soon. I created a series of skateboards for a company called Cliché that will be released in June or July. I also recently collaborated on an animated collage music clip for a close friend of mine’s band, FETES. I’m excited to see the final edit of that. 


Based on your experience, what advice would you give someone looking to start making collage art?

Generally I think the most important thing is having a good eye for composition. It’s also important not to limit yourself to what you think collage is. Use anything and everything around you. There are no rules in art making really. So in a way the best advice is don’t take advice. Just do what you enjoy.