By Nathalie Barclay
“How can I use my life positively to impact others? How can I contribute? How can I interconnect? How can I do something good with my life?” For Simon Birch, these are driving questions that have come to shape his artistic career over the years. Originally from Brighton, England, Birch moved to Hong Kong in 1997 in the aftermath of the death of one of his closest friends. Starting as a construction worker, he eventually worked his way up through sheer perseverance to becoming an artist. “When no one would give a break, I just kept going and created opportunities myself, and then eventually had some success.”
Birch’s success is most notable within the Hong Kong artistic scene. He credits this with the belief that he has “developed as a sort of big fish in a small pond is this tiny little city.” Many of his works are inspired by the people and culture of Hong Kong, especially his daring series of paintings of the Chinese mafia. They are also often characterized by his representation of the captivating movement and acute sense of pain of his subjects. Constantly playing with different mediums and techniques, these recurring themes evolve and change with every piece, whether it be an oil painting, a film or an installation. “It is an organic procession, from year to year, project to project.”
However, while it may be true that he has known the most success in Hong Kong, his work has transcended boundaries and is now internationally recognized. Coming to New York, Birch will be introducing his newest project in April: located in a massive old building on Wall Street, it consists of fourteen installations in procession and is over 150,000 square feet. Though filled with excitement over the big revelation of his new project, he describes the nervewracking process of integrating himself in New York: “Here, I’m completely unknown, so there is a huge dynamic shift from how I relate to Hong Kong and how I relate to New York. In New York, I’m just some dude who’s kind of just turned up.”
Despite his apprehension, Birch is eager to share his largest project to date, “The 14th Factory,” which he hopes will be an intensely interactive and immersive art experience. “New York said: ‘Well, if you’re prepared to work hard a little bit, we’ll let you do your project.’ And we worked hard and here we are.” Following an auction at the close of the exhibit, Birch will be donating 100% of the proceeds to NGO’s supporting disadvantaged children and innercity youth.