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Published December 22nd 2017
Have you wondered about that monolith in 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.
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.
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
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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.
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.