Trina Mckillen's richly colored, rose-petal filled photographic images are beautiful, and a little firghtening. Not horrifying, not cruel. Not too big to handle, like a natural disaster or a bomb. More like a small, personally felt, controlled cataclysm. McKillen works with materials that are difficult to manage, both literally and symbolically. Her images of small, found objects - toys, dolls, flowers, nails and pins - could easily become decorative or sentimental, or else fall into the cliches of heavy-handed surrealism. Instead, she handles them with an odd combination of sureness and improvisation. Her work is lyricism with an edge.
We asked McKillen if she had an artist statement and she responded with an autobiography that, she said, just came out of her: a story of growing up inside a war.
Born in 1964 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, she grew up in Andersonstown, which became a hotbed of sectarian violence when the 'Troubles' began in 1969.
To the eyes of a child, it must have seemed a very personal battle. In her photographs, we can see the threat of imminent violence to her family - but rendered dreamlike in memory and in the odd, displaced objects of childhood. Death and even evil have been filtered, watered-down, made somehow lighter through the determination of her family to maintain an inner peace and to survive.
McKillen says," I use a stream of consciousness method. I rarely plan projects or the content of my work. Over the years I have collected old dolls, beauty items, toys, tools, games and miscellaneous objects that appeal to me either for their color or form. I use these in my photographs. Other times I spontaneously arrange them or bring certain objects together. Sometiimes I alter them significantly, as I did in a series in which I wrapped small dolls with rose petals." In this highly sensual work, McKillen has more than come to terms with the fears of childhood. Enveloped in living, almost breathing, natural forms, her dolls are part-beings, part-roses. They seem to invite the petal's embrace.
Each transfigured, sometimes battered toy in her photographs is touched by individual, personal association and with humor and affection. Her work is family oriented in a way no comtemporary politician would dare to approach.
It is a lot like her - rooted, feminine, funny, but strong. It is art you would be glad to to be in company with, behind the barricades.
Kate Fitz Gibbon / Andy Hale
Belfast Native's Surreal Photographs
Haunting , Poetic
By Tom Collins, Albuquerque Journal September 2004
In their long history, the Irish have seen a great deal of trouble and The Troubles - sectarian Catholic vs. Protestant violence that carried on for so long, and they have a good way of dealing with it. They dissemble; they mytholize; they pray, drink and deny. In short, they turn it into dream; the Irish set great store in the power and significance of the dream.
It is perhaps not surprising then that McKillen uses the camera to create surrealistically infused studio shots of old dolls, toys, games, beauty items,etcetera, in strange dichotomous arrangements. Rose petal-wrapped mummy figures, sometimes bound in twine, never looked so haunting, because you've never seen them before. Waiting for something violent, Irish, Belfastian, or shocking you will be surprised. But these are so subtle, like a Borges story or a Bunuel film, that you will miss the real poetry the first time around. Like the dog that didn't bark, you have to stay and wait to be startled.
By Craig Smith, July 2007
Trina McKillen was born and grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Throughout her childhood and adolescence she saw and heard many things: Irish Republican Army snipers shooting from roofs at British troops; a bomb explosion on the street outside the family home that blew out all the windows; and a man, presumably an informant, being tarred and feathered by a furious mob. But even with these sobering influences, McKillen's artistic cannon is more whimsical than frightening. Her photographs display an innocence twisted and turned on itself but never brutalized. She may have seen terrible things, but they haven't made her afraid to see.