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The Chen - Art Series Hotel, Box Hill

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by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Published December 22nd 2017
Have you wondered about that monolith in Box Hill?
The Chen Art Series Hotel Box Hill
The pool at The Chen Art Series Hotel with uninterrupted views all the way to the CBD - Photo credit Pool Genius Network Facebook

You may have been living blind-folded if you hail from the Eastern suburbs and have not noticed the rise of a gargantuan skyscraper in central Box Hill.

It may have the unassuming name of Whitehorse Towers, but it is the largest development in Victoria outside of Melbourne's CBD. I remember the first time I saw the tower gleaming above me glinting in the sun. The sight brought an involuntary long, slow whistle.

The Chen Art Series Hotel @ Whitehorse Towers Box Hill
Whitehorse Towers Box Hill - Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt @nadine.cresswell-myatt

Whitehorse Towers, is the result of a $330 million dollar investment clearly demarcating Box Hill's importance as a rapidly growing satellite CBD in Greater Melbourne. For those not familiar with the suburb, it is 14 km to the east and served by rapid, city-bound express trains, a 14 bay bus terminus and is located at the end of the 42 tram line.

The Towers are 36 storeys high and include 511 apartments as well as retail and commercial space.

But of interest to tourists and to locals who enjoy experiencing different suburbs in their vast expansive city is the inclusion of the luxury 100 room hotel, The Chen Art Series Hotel, named after and inspired by Chinese Australian artist Zhong Chen.

The Chen Art Series Hotel - Zhong Chen
Jane O'Neill - the Art Series Hotel's art curator explains one of Zhong Chen's art work on an art tour of The Chen.@nadine.cresswell-myatt

The Chen is owned by Mantra Hotels which also owns the other Art Series Hotels. All are themed and decorated around the works of iconic Australian artists. In Victoria, they include the The Cullen, The Olsen, The Blackman, the Larwill Studio and the Schaller Studio in Bendigo.

Having an Art Series Hotel in Box Hill is fitting, as while hard to imagine these days Box Hill was the cradle of a distinctively Australian art movement when in the 1880s a group of artists, later known as the Heidelberg group (Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and co.), set up their easels on a bush camp site. This was about a mile south of the present railway station. I rather think these artists would let out more than a whistle if they could see Box Hill now and skyscraper buildings such as Whitehorse Towers.

To continue with the art theme of this article, one of the joys of staying at The Chen is that the staff have been trained by Art Series Hotels in-house curator Jane O'Neill, so that they can take guests on art tours of the hotel.

Whitehorse Towers - Chen Art Series Hotel Box Hill
Roof top pool The Chen - Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt @nadine.cresswell-myatt

These tours start in the foyer where there are a number of Chen's original pixelated portraits of traditional Chinese women. When examined closely, you can see how incredibly detailed the work is. Each of these oil paintings consists of hundreds of minuscule and meticulously gridded and painted squares. On the Vimeo video at the end of this article, Chen describes these paintings as 'old Chinese images married with the Millennium bug.'

Zhong Chen - The Chen Art Series Hotel
A close up of one of Zhong Chen's pixilated portraits @nadine.cresswell-myatt

Kung fu/Kungfu or Gung fu/Gongfu is a Chinese term that refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete, so the term does not just refer to martial arts. And one can see the incredible patience, energy and time that Chen has invested in these incredible paintings.

Chen was born in China in 1969 and did not come to Australia until he was 19, so he received a grounding in traditional Chinese art techniques such as wood block printing and ink brush painting. In Australia, he studied visual arts at the University of South Australia and was awarded the 'International Samstag Scholarship' enabling him to attend the Chelsea School of Art in London, where he gained a Masters Degree in Fine Art. In London, he met members of the radical group the 'Young British Artists' (Y.B.A's) and Chen began to develop his distinctive, pixelated rendering of colour. Chen was also introduced to international art trends when he participated in residencies in New York in 2001 and 2006.

The Chen Art Series Hotel Box Hill
Reception area with Zhong Cheng's art work in the background - @nadine.cresswell-myatt

As you progress on your tour of Chen's works, you can see how he moved away from creating pixelated images and returned to more traditional Chinese ink-brush painting with its controlled, bold, expressive movements. Looking at this work, it is not surprising that he has been a three-time finalist in the Archibald Prize.

While paintings in the hotel foyer are originals, those in the corridors and rooms are digital archival fine art editions. These reference the12 symbols of the Chinese zodiac as well as martial arts (which Chen also practised). But as well as elements of more traditional Chinese culture and folk art, there are brilliant blocks of colour and composition that reveal Western influences reflecting Chen's international training as well as his transcultural identity as a Chinese Australian.

Chen Art Series Hotel
Quite a view from the sun deck @nadine.cresswell-myatt

Chen lives in Box HIll which is a highly multi-cultural suburb and home to one of our city's largest Chinese-born populations. He says,' I have lived and worked in Box Hill for nearly a decade. I am passionate about my community and its emergence as a cultural powerhouse outside of Melbourne.'

The Chen Art Series Hotel Box Hill
An example of one of the double rooms @nadine.cresswell-myatt

For those considering staying at The Chen, the hotel and surrounding Box Hill offers a rich cultural and artistic experience. The Art Series hotel offers beautifully decorated apartment-style suites. These are painted in muted grey tones with flashes of the pinks and blues that are found in Chen's works.

The Art Series hotels encourage guests to take an interest in the art around them. Each room has a selection of art books to look through and a dedicated art channel on the TV as well as the free tours that explore Chen's work.

The Chen Art Series Hotel Box Hill
Some in room reading @nadine.cresswell-myatt

As the building is so high compared to surrounding structures the rooftop pool and sundeck provide uninterrupted views over surrounding suburbs and arguably the best view of Melbourne's distant city skyline. Conversely and sadly (and I am speaking as a local here), Whitehorse Towers blocks the once soothing views that pedestrians and motorists once had of the Dandenong Ranges.

The Chen Art Series Hotel Box Hill
Zhong Chen's artwork at The Chen's reception area - @nadine.cresswell-myatt

Another attraction is that the hotel will have what is being touted as Melbourne's best yum cha restaurant, seating for 150 diners over two storeys. This is expected to open by the end of March, 2018.

I spoke to Laura Richardson, the front office manager, who mentioned some of the restaurants that staff recommend to guests that are all within 5 minutes walk of The Chen. Being a local, I was pleased to hear that these were personal favourites such as Tien Dat, Indochine and David & Camy Dumplings and Noodles.

As a local, it is easy to get caught up in going to one's regular haunts. So when Laura filled me in on a couple of tucked away new cafes with great coffee, I left The Chen to try them out. So now I can add Second Wife to my own personal favourites list.

The thing about one's suburbs is that they are always growing and developing and for better or worse, it is best to keep abreast of those changes.

But when those changes mean interesting art-inspired hotels and new restaurant experiences, it does make it somewhat easier to embrace such changes.

Art Series Hotels presents THE CHEN from Julian Ashton on Vimeo.

* I would like to thank art curator Jane O'Neill (who is also interviewed in the video above) for showing me through The Chen and taking the time to introduce me to Chen's amazing art work.
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Why? To experience art, culture and a stay in an Art Series Hotel
Phone: (03) 9131 0200
Where: 850 Whitehorse Rd, Box Hill
Cost: Opening celebratory offer $159 through to around $199
Your Comment
Very informative and lovely photos.
by May Cross (score: 3|6743) 929 days ago
Those of us that live in the area can tell you that we hate this building...and Box Hill is not particularly multi cultural at fact it's becoming quite mono cultural.
by everg (score: 0|7) 908 days ago
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