What I Buy and Why: London D.J.-Turned-Curator Henry Relph on Spotting the Latest Young Talent, and How He Shops the Fairs

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Art collecting isn’t just a passion for Henry Relph. The 39-year-old London collector loved it so much it inspired a career change, from his former life as a DJ to now working as a curator.

“It feels like a natural migration,” he said of the transition. It has recently led him to build the art collection and public art program focusing on young and emerging art for CitizenM Hotels, which span 22 outposts across the globe, as well as curating shows for galleries.

Relph personally owns around 50 works, focusing predominantly on paintings by British and international artists “who I feel art at the forefront of my generation and pushing the boundaries of painting today.” Some of the names in his collection include Louise Giovanelli, Issy Wood, Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Angela Heisch, Constanza Schaffner, Andrew Cranston, and Jenny Morgan.

Alexis Soul-Gray, <i>Orange Eaters</i>. This work will be included in Alexis Soul-Gray’s upcoming show “Screen Memory” (Wetterling Gallery Stockholm, 10 November – 17 December 2022). Courtesy of the artist and Henry Relph.

Alexis Soul-Gray, Orange Eaters. This work will be included in Alexis Soul-Gray’s upcoming show “Screen Memory” (Wetterling Gallery Stockholm. Courtesy of the artist and Henry Relph.

“The London art scene is certainly having the spotlight shone on it, especially for female young abstract paintings,” Relph said ahead of London’s Frieze week. “We are seeing artists like Jadé Fadojutimi, Rachel Jones, and Flora Yukhnovich reach blue-chip representation and numerous museum acquisitions within just a few years.”

Relph said he rarely makes impulsive purchases and always has long conversations in advance to ensure that the art he is going to buy is relevant to his collection. Currently, he’s setting his sights on young artists. He is particularly impressed by this year’s Royal College of Art graduation show. “It is so exciting as a London- based collector to see the young London art scene thrive,” he said.

We caught up with Relph ahead of the opening of Frieze to take about what makes the collector tick.

Angela Heisch

Angela Heisch, Final Act. Courtesy of the artist and Henry Relph.

What was your first purchase (and how much did you pay for it)?

A drawing by David Shrigley at Frieze in 2013. I love his dry British humor. It was around £2,000.

What was your most recent purchase?

A painting by British artist Alexis Soul-Gray. I discovered Alexis through the RCA and her work instantly stood out to me. Her paintings have a dreamlike quality that for me combines dynamic abstract painting with mystical portraiture.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

In the not-too-distant future I hope to acquire works by Emma Webster, Francesca Mollett, Stefanie Heinze, and Nathanaëlle Herbelin

Louise Giovanelli

Louise Giovanelli, Cameo. Courtesy of the artist and Henry Relph.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

A big Jadé Fadojutimi.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

There are so many great galleries in London with which I have forged trusting relationships. Some that spring to mind is Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, Carlos Ishikawa, Ingleby Gallery, Workplace. Internationally I particularly like Another Gallery NYC, Central Fine Art Miami, and Adz Gallery Portugal.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

As a collector of course there is regret around buying certain works. However, I find the positives always outweigh the negatives.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa?

A volcano painting by Brice Guilbert.

Issy Wood

Issy Wood, I don’t like you cold. Courtesy of the artist and Henry Relph.

What about in your bathroom?

The only art I have in my bathroom is a picture of my dog, Nelly.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

A Sterling Ruby ceramic that makes me nervous when Nelly gets excited.

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

I saw Jana Euler very early and had a chance to buy a painting. I wish I did.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

Michelangelo’s It would look great in the garden.

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