Story of Simon Birch

People often ask about my inspirations and how I developed @the14thfactory. This is my story...

01
01

I’m Simon Birch (...the artist, not the little guy from the movie of the same name!). I come from a humble background, relative to UK standards (so far better off than much of the world) and have very little now but have had many adventures along the way and am super grateful. I never set out to be an artist but I am one now and it's been an unusual journey and perhaps it's just getting started.

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02
02

As a kid, I was obsessed with comic books and dreamed of being a comic book artist, working with Frank Miller or Alan Moore or Los Bros Hernandez, and spent endless hours drawing. Star Wars obsessed, Blade Runner even more so.

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03
03

I loved being independent, I embraced and committed to any opportunity, being a delivery driver allowed me to travel around England, loved being a bouncer (getting bullied for being the new kid made me pursue martial arts) as my colleagues were all rastas so I got a crash course in Jamaican culture, hated working in the factory though.

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04
04

Anyway, I left England with nothing but a passport and at least some choices to travel that are sadly denied so many in terms of options when in crisis. But, wow, what a rollercoaster. I'm lucky to have experienced directly, this huge new culture movement, music, energy, even with some challenging experiences.

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05
05

After my rave career failed I left the UK with about $50 in my pocket and ended up in Australia.I worked odd jobs and met new people and embraced the outdoors. I built a rock climbing gym, the biggest in Oz at the time. I was the proud owner and part builder of The Rockface and thought that would be my future, adventure sports entrepreneur but as usual, life had other plans.

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06
06

Arriving in Hong Kong, walked off the plane to a bar and got a job and was at work the same day I arrived. A week later I got a second job as a construction labourer in the Tsing Ma bridge. And with 2 jobs I could rent a 300sq ft apartment, 6 floor walk-up, and couldn’t have been happier.

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07
07

We would regularly get thousands of people lining up to go nuts to Sasha, Paul Van Dyk, John Digweed, Goldie, Nick Warren and so many more amazing talented DJs. I set up an agency called Supermodified and would tour the DJs all over Asia and I acted as manager and warm-up DJ. Fun times and got to stay in amazing hotels in amazing cities, exploring them and learning much, Tokyo still my favourite.

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08
08

I decided to try to get an education, go to the UK and get an art degree but I couldn’t get through the selection process due to my lack of education. So I had a go at making my own exhibitions anyway, painting friends' portraits or life-size representations. I knew nothing about the technical side of oil painting, taught myself, but the more I painted, the more my conviction grew.

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09
09

At 30 I took a brief break, I was inspired by a book called Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I went around the world photographing people that had an influence in my life. This was perhaps the beginning of my exploration of story and connection which is expanded upon dramatically and beyond, in my most recent project, The 14th Factory.

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10
10

My new life as an artist started moving and I really went for it. I would hang paintings anywhere possible and would jump on any opportunity to collaborate and did all kinds of odd projects. Finally, after some years of independent shows, experiments and projects, I found a gallery, that was willing to show my work, thanks to AAA chief Claire Hsu

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11
11

Becoming more established meant I had money from regular painting sales and could develop experimental side projects; installation, video, immersive experience, and also meet other artists, learn from them, and find ways to work together. Not just contemporary artists but filmmakers, photographers, architects, actors, composers, and many creatives.

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12
12

From my construction worker/painter foundation, and new efforts in larger and collaborative work, I started to think about new projects and going big. I photographed many of these great artists and started painting them. All were happy to be subjects.

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13
13

The surgery took hours longer than expected, they found multiple tumours from below my eyes, close to the brain, throughout sinuses cavities, down to my neck and expanding rapidly, on the way to engulf my lymphatic system. Aggressive cancer, NK/T cell, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, 6 months to live without treatment. Low survival rate, normally only seen in older Asian people and very rare, a few people a year. No idea the cause, not genetic.

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14
14

During chemo I still managed to put on one big show, assuming it would be my last. It was hard work to complete as had lost too much weight and had such low energy and was often in pain. But it was a very focused group of work. The show was a combination of paintings, installation, and performance. 'This Brutal House'.

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15
15

It took me years to recover, for sure I had PTSD and I tried to put on a brave face and I wish I had asked for psychological help. So many people had been so generous to me, I didn't want to bother anyone with my mental health problems. But I slowly got better and it all seems like a distant memory now.

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More stories coming soon... Stay tuned
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