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Philip Hemnell’s “Urban Eurasian” at Galerie Steph – A Bold Step Forward

Interview with Philip Hemnell and his exhibition of prized pieces from his personal collection alongside new original work at Galerie Steph.

On July 6th, artist and collector Philip Hemnell exhibited prized pieces from his personal collection alongside new original work at Galerie Steph. Titled “Urban Eurasian”, after the artist’s own Eurasian heritage, the show was reflective of Hemnell’s eclectic taste and extensive travels. From Ipoh to New York, as the title suggests, “Urban Eurasian” was a mellifluous mélange of artistic genres, clearly signaling a fearless step forward for the young and promising gallery, founded by Singaporean native Stephanie Tham. Nothing was off limits, as the show featured the likes of Southeast Asian modern masters such as Yusof Ghani and Agus Purnomo to cheeky graffiti artists FAILE and Ben Frost. Visitors can even expect to see a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II!

I had the privilege to sit down with the amiable artist/collector himself to have a chat about his decidedly diverse upbringing, education and worldly pursuits.

Binghao: Hi Philip. Congratulations on the success of opening night!

Philip Hemnell: Thank you.

BH: How large is your personal collection?

PH: I have actually lost count, as only about 40% of the collection is framed and available to hang. 60% of the artworks are stored in a large architects A0 plan filing cabinet at my office in conservation portfolio cases. At last count I have in excess of 200 pieces in my collection.

BH: What would you consider your most cherished work of art in your collection and why?

PH: For a collector that’s almost an impossible question to answer. My most cherished pieces all have stories attached to them, some because I knew the artist who gave me an insight into their works or others that I bought that give me an abiding memory of a person or a place. One of my favorites at the moment is “Bird Prayers” by Sara Nuytemans (Dutch) and Avra Pandaju (Indonesian) which is a photograph of 4 people in a rice padi in Ubud with birdhouses on their heads. I like this piece because its part of a ongoing multisite, multidisciplinary project that combines performance, exhibition and talks.

BH: Any specific direction when it comes to collecting art? Or do you just go with your instincts?

PH: Absolutely none – first and foremost is the visual impact of the piece, secondly the creativity and skill that has gone into the production of the artwork. I never buy a piece of art with the idea of how it will fit into the collection. The piece must be able to stand on its own and invariably it manages somehow to fit into the overall collection which is inherently eclectic so has room for all types of artworks. The thing that has changed my buying of art is the Internet which allows me to surf galleries from New York to Sydney without leaving my chair, this one channel has meant in the last 7 years my collection has become even more diverse.

BH: I like that the work you showed at Galerie Steph was diverse in origin and genre. Do you think your extensive travels and unique heritage influence your choices in collecting and creating art?

PH: Thanks. It is integral to how I look at art – being a Eurasian boy born to a Chinese Mother and English father my influences from birth have always been cross-cultural. I never questioned whether is was appropriate to go to church on one day and on another going to clear and pray at my Grand Parents graves during Qing Meng. It was just a part of my life growing up. Thus I have always loved art from every where – its almost irrelevant to where the art work has come from it only has to speak to me at some level and I want it. My biggest external influence though has to be the 13 years of living in New York where the boundaries of what is considered to be art are broken every day. I had friends in NY who were well known train taggers and Graffiti artists and they introduced to me the concept that art on the street is just as important and interesting as art housed in Museums and in Galleries. They instilled in me that it does not matter what the medium or location is as long as it has merit and therefore could be considered as art and that gave me courage to be creative as well.

BH: I understand you have a background in film. Do you think it affects the way you collect/create art?

PH: In the mid 90’s I went back to school at NYU to study film and then when to a computer animation school run by Silicon Graphics in Santa Monica. Both courses taught me about being creative and pushing the envelope in terms of visualization and story telling. The most important part of that time was the technical ability it taught me with computers. Most of the art work I create today is done in Photoshop and Illustrator before it appears on canvas- the actual painting of the artwork is probably only 40% of the actual process, the longest element of the creative process is in the computer as this allows me to experiment and change the artwork till I like it before transferring it to the canvas. Inherently the nature of painting means that image that eventually appears in paint on the canvas in not a complete facsimile of what was in the computer but that in itself is part of the fun of the creative process and allows for interesting mistakes.

BH: Any travel plans in the near future?

PH: Nothing definite but I will end up going to Myanmar before the end of the year and I look forward to visiting the art galleries and museums there to see what interesting Burmese art I can pick up.

philip hemnell installation

Installation of Philip’s show at Galerie Steph

philip hemnell opening night

Visitors on opening night

philip and steph

The artist and Director of Galerie Steph, Stephanie Tham

“Urban Eurasian – A Collection of Prints and Paintings from Ipoh to New York” will be on view at Galerie Steph from 6 July – 1 September 2012.

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About Binghao (8 Articles)
Binghao is an independent art writer. His primary interests include performance, performativity, social practice, institutional critique and the publics within contemporary art. He currently reads History of Art at University College London.