Stephen Tierney is a collage artist based in Sydney, Australia who produces work in collaboration with photographer Tanja Bruckner. Stephen had studied design and illustration at the Sydney Design School and has since exhibited his work across Australia, Europe, Asia and America. With an arts background, Tanja is an established photographer who has had her own work featured in publications and exhibited internationally. Their most recent collaboration has been exhibited in Australia and Mexico.

‘Fear’, Mixed media collage, 40 x 60cm, 2018. Photo credit: China Heights

Where did you spend Lockdown?

We were both in Sydney. We had been planning to meet in Mexico in early March to work on an exhibition that was scheduled for June 2020. About the time that everything was getting crazy in Italy and several countries started closing borders we made the decision to cancel that trip.

Australia went into lockdown in the first few weeks of April. We spent our quarantine in different locations. Steve was with his wife and one year old baby in a house on one side of the city and Tanja was staying with friends on the other side. We didn’t see each other for about 6 weeks.

Install shot of ‘Reflected’. Photo by Anna Bruce

Did you have access to a studio during this time? If not, how did you continue to create work?

We didn’t. We were sharing a studio space before everything happened. When Sydney went into lockdown we weren’t allowed to access it. As there were regulations on leaving the house and going to work, unless it was considered necessary. Basically our collaborative work was put on hold.

We were really lucky in Australia. Our Government got on top of things quickly and our first lockdown worked well in controlling the spread of the virus. When things settled down and people were allowed to visit family and friends we got together for coffee a couple of times. We met at a spot on Sydney Harbour near the water, around less people and started to talk about how we could get things happening again.

Since everything has opened up here we have been meeting weekly and shooting regularly. We’ve started working on ideas for exhibitions and other projects that look promising. Although, as of this week there is a new strain of the virus spreading through a couple of communities, so we are also preparing to be in lockdown again in the next few weeks, which could put everything on hold again.

Can you talk through your art making process?

Generally we will start by talking and looking at reference material in order to get a concept going together. For example, with our first collaboration ‘Reflected’ we looked at lots of photos of Kate Moss from the 90’s and other famous models and campaigns from that era. Then we went into a studio and shot Steve in those poses. Once we have the photos we will go through them together and choose our favourites. Then Steve will go and work on them, cutting and layering them until some new images appear. We will then discuss what’s working and why and in the end we will decide on the final set together.

Stephen Tierney in the Studio

Did you experiment with any new materials or methodologies during quarantine?

Not really. We couldn’t meet up and there wasn’t much else to do, we pretty much took a break. Steve has a young baby, so he took the time to spend with his family and Tanja caught up on reading a lot of books and writing.

To be honest after the disappointment of some pretty big shows not happening both in Mexico and in Australia it was good to have a break. When we were finally able to see each other we were both really motivated to see how we could navigate making new artwork and continuing to present it in these weird times.

Given the limitations and restrictions of the last few months, did your art making process change at all? If so, do you think this will continue to change how you will make art going forward?

Now that we can work together physically we are pretty much back to our regular process of making the artworks. One thing we are realising is that we may need to rethink how we present it. As galleries are generally closed and our large-scale installation requires people to walk around in groups through the work in warehouse spaces or theatres, we are going to have a lot of trouble doing that.

For now we are just working on new ideas with the hope that once we have something exciting that we are happy with, the world might be coming out of it a little. Maybe by 2021? Hopefully. We are also excited to play with moving image and animation, but this is all just experimental for now.

‘Untitled’, Work in Progress, June 2020

Did you have any projects during this time that went ahead?

No. All our projects either were cancelled or postponed until next year.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

We are working on something really exciting with a well-known Australian fashion designer. We cannot say anything about it just yet. But it’s by far the most exciting thing we have happening at the moment, and perhaps even of anything we’ve done together until now. Keep an eye on our instagram in the next month and we will be announcing that…

All photographs were provided by Steve Tierney & Tanja Bruckner unless otherwise stated. Thumbnail photo credit: Anthony Brady. To see more of their work visit their website and Instagram @tierneybruckner, @steve_tierney and @tanjabruckner.