A fascination with vinyl album covers from an early age was the beginning of Kelvin Chan’s career in the international art world.
What’s your story?
I listen to all genres of music on vinyl and I have been a vinyl addict since I was 12. In my opinion, Jazz album covers from the Blue Note and Prestige label are the most stunning ones I’ve ever seen. Those have a special place in my heart because they were designed by my heroes, Reid Miles and Francis Wolff.
Collecting vinyl really opened my eyes to the world of art in my formative years, and I would go as far as to say that my current knowledge of art is due to this hobby of mine. Banksy, Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Yoshitomo Nara – do these names ring a bell? They are some of the most highly-paid and sought-after contemporary artists in modern-day. Most of them began their career by designing album covers. I was already intrigued by the unique album covers each artist produced long before I knew of their existence in the contemporary art market. When I first kick started my career as an art advertising director, this knowledge gave me an advantage and placed me at the forefront among my peers.
I founded my own art management and consultancy company in 2010, and it was most definitely a natural progression within the industry.
What excites you most about your industry?
I feel that art is a personal journey, just as it should be for everyone. I am energized by the process of discovering an artist’s work, and facilitating its presentation to a wider international audience. Singapore is well known for our cosmopolitanism, the free exchange of ideas through multicultural platforms. We are thus able to remove racial and language barriers, and effectively share art with those who have no access to it. Our artists participate actively on this journey, which eventually leads them towards a global stage.
For me, each presentation of art holds a sacred place in my heart. Premium Pages is involved in numerous public installations, be it commercial or community-related projects. Having our works adorn multiple locations in different parts of the world excites me and it also evokes a feeling of interconnectivity, which has always been an important part of our company’s philosophy.
What is your connection to Asia?
Prior to establishing Premium Pages, I was working for one of the oldest contemporary art magazines in the world, based in Hong Kong. As their art advertising director, I was granted the opportunity to travel across the globe to numerous art fairs. Aside from selling advertising space, I brought galleries and artists together. I facilitated cross country exchanges which enabled artists to showcase their work in a foreign country. Attending as many art fairs as possible is essential for making your way in this industry; you will cross paths with many like-minded individuals and form lasting connections with them.
Last but not least, I am a Singaporean, born and bred here. My favourite Singapore dish is the Fried Carrot Cake. I call it the “Food for Champions”. It is 100% NOT a healthy dish but it is approved by our Singapore Olympic swimming champion.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I have always regarded Daegu as where it all began. Many have asked me why Daegu, and not Seoul or Busan, which are more obvious choices. But we were invited to their art fair many years ago. Having attended many, I was naturally hesitant, foreseeing a mammoth language barrier. Being brutally honest, I didn’t even know exactly where Daegu was. Eventually, I plucked up my courage and decided to give it a shot.
That long fateful trip gave us a newfound experience, and made me realize that the city had so much more to offer than just traditional Korean ginseng or textiles. Daegu has many promising talents making contemporary art, and it was where I signed my first 3 artists. As with every first encounter, the artists were initially skeptical about my company’s promise to take them global. They took the chance, just as we did, and we have not looked back since. We also collaborated with a publishing firm based in Singapore, releasing an English language publication about Daegu artists. I am proud to say that this art guide is now part of the Korean National Library’s collection.
These journeys to beyond have taught me valuable lessons. I learned not to be afraid of new opportunities, but to confront them with passion and sincerity. We cannot be too sure where our next stop will be, but hopefully after this interview, our future artists will lead us to the next destination.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Even though this was more of a passing statement and not directed to me per se, I have kept this close to my heart. “自我批评 — zi wo pi ping“; the importance of self-criticism. This chinese one-liner was introduced to me by my mentor, Mr Ian Findlay Brown. He is a polyglot and his command of mandarin made me feel as though I had brought dishonour to my ancestors and to my two pet tortoises.
This Chinese phrase emphasizes the ability of one individual to recognize the strength and weaknesses of themselves. The key challenge here is to not be overly critical of oneself but to have enough self awareness to be able to accept constructive criticism. I value this advice because it teaches me to capitalize and build on what I am good at, but also find other means to improve the aspects I lack.
Who inspires you?
Undeniably, many individuals have inspired me in different stages of my life, including my parents and my friends. If I really had to name one, it would be Brian Setzer, the American rockabilly guitarist, and singer songwriter. It is his “going against the grain” attitude that inspires me.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
A controversy that happened earlier this year was when a poll in Singapore revealed that a majority of the respondents surveyed felt that artists were “non-essential” during the pandemic. Despite the results, Singaporean’s appetite and consumption for art actually increased. You read it here first!
We received numerous inquiries about our local artists. This disproves the notion that artists are “non essential”, which was definitely a heartening realization. We certainly need art to weather these funny times. Who knew that Singaporeans would give up their clothes, their shoes, their Chanels but not art?
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am thankful for my experiences thus far and do not regret any of my decisions. If I really had to nitpick and choose something different, perhaps I would have pursued a career in recording engineering. I studied audio engineering when I was younger and dreamt of becoming the next George Martin or Rudy Van Gelder. To me, art and music will always be complementary.
How do you unwind?
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I believe that the destination does not matter as much as the company does. When I am with good company, we will have fun in every destination. It has been proven.
Everyone in business should read this book:
A must-read would be Tom Hopkins – How to Master the Art of Selling. Although the book may be old, and certain make or break scenarios are no longer applicable, his techniques and strategies in creating or amplifying sales are still relevant now, even in the digital age.
Shameless plug for your business:
Art should be easily accessible to everyone. Premium Pages is committed to navigating the forefront of artistic creativity. Our work involves advising, evaluating, procuring and organizing all art related matters. We have managed a multitude of projects, ranging from home-based collections to large- scale installations. Obviously, we enjoy working with everyone, from individual art enthusiasts to investors looking for commercial value. We are able to customize solutions to your liking, just like a bespoke suit, as we are well aware there is no one size that fits all. If you are an artist, do send us your portfolio too, so that we can start this journey together.
How can people connect with you?
We have never believed in faxing or emailing a handshake. We welcome all calls, emails and messages for a potential face-to-face meet up. We promise that we will always have time for a cup of coffee.
Social Media Links?
To hear how entrepreneurs around the world overcome their challenges, search your favourite podcast platform for ‘CallumConnects‘ to hear a 5-minute daily breakdown.
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built, and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’, and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.