When thinking about interior design, LEGO, dominoes and graffiti are probably not the first things that spring to mind – then again, Acrylicize aren’t like any other company. Mark Kebble chats to founder James Burke
First things first James, I hear you are on site on a big project – can you reveal anything about it?
At this stage, I can’t say too much except that it’s one of the biggest projects we’ve undertaken in our ten years of Acrylicize. It’s a brand that everyone on the planet will be familiar with and it’s hugely exciting for the team.
How do you actually sit down and start working on a new project? Is it always a real team effort?
With each project we take on, we put a huge amount of effort into the initial research. We are always focused on embracing the personality of a space as well as its locality, so we spend a huge amount of time researching the environs and the company itself. We have internal ‘stretch sessions’ where we challenge each other creatively, with individual and team tasks. This can involve everything from collecting train tickets for an afternoon at Paddington Station, to each going out to the supermarket to buy Heinz beans and experimenting at home.
We operate as artists, looking for the opportunity to try something new with every new commission. From the client’s perspective, they know never to expect the same thing twice.
Is it true that Acrylicize started life as a university project?
Yes, that’s right. I was at ManchesterMetropolitanUniversity studying for a degree in contemporary arts. I had started experimenting with art on acrylic as an innovative canvas and decided to pursue this idea for my final year project.
For my final show, I displayed my acrylic art pieces with ornamental price tags and unintentionally sold every piece. That’s when I realised that there could be a business opportunity, so I did my research and made sure that there was a viable commercial angle. My business partner and friend Paul (Arad) was very keen to be involved. We were both very inspired by the idea of doing something for ourselves and all that energy we had at university really inspired us to go for it. So Paul jumped on board with his sales skills.
We then put endless effort into making contacts. We picked up the Yellow Pages and called everybody, absolutely anybody, who may have been remotely interested in what we were doing. We also went onto building sites to find out who was looking after the interiors. This strategy really worked for us. After various successes, we applied for a small loan from the government to set up a basic infrastructure for the business. This enabled us to pitch for more work, one of the first being the contract to create artwork for the newly rebuilt Wembley Stadium, which at the time was just a stone’s throw from our little studio. This was a huge deal for us as it was such a significant step up in terms of the scale and stature of project we were used to. It was also a real honour to develop work for our national stadium and led to lots of press and ultimately lots more commissions.
In more recent years, we have expanded our work ethic and enthusiasm for unique art to create work for various big businesses and individuals. We created a feature wall for Heinz at their European Innovation Centre in The Netherlands, a colour-changing acrylic light wall for Engine London’s HQ in the West End and a huge spiral of dominoes that climbs up a 20m tall atrium for a property company in West London. A challenge came in the request for installations for Qubic Tax – as tax is perhaps not the most obvious artistic muse. After some consideration, we built a wall feature covered with hundreds of LEGO characters, each in different uniforms, to highlight that all workers are affected by tax. We have also created art installations at airports and various NHS buildings including a children’s ward and a dementia ward at the Nightingale House care home in South West London.
How would you sum up the acrylic art you initially started making, and why was it different?
I liked acrylic as an innovative canvas, the fact that you could play with light as well as the art itself. It was an organic movement from the acrylic-focused pieces to more all-encompassing art techniques. In our ten years, we have evolved from ‘the acrylic guys’ to a boutique creative studio creating large-scale bespoke art and design features.
Over this time, how did the company evolve into a creative agency?
Since we started, we gained a reputation as acrylic specialists having spearheaded the ‘art on acrylic’ phenomenon from its humble roots as a university art project. From there, we evolved to use our expertise in this area to design and curate ‘acrylic’ art schemes for modern and contemporary interiors. We also sold individual acrylic pieces direct from our online store, building up a collective, representing a range of artists and photographers whose work could translate to the acrylic canvas.
We soon started to win commissions from very ambitious clients, which encouraged us to evolve even further. Thus the idea of our customisation came about, creating completely unique, narrative-driven art concepts and installations for interior spaces, be it offices, hospitals or stadia. These projects took on different forms and utilised a whole host of materials and techniques.
When did you move to Shoreditch?
We moved east two years ago, from our original studio in Harrow. The team had grown and we were keen to soak up the creativity of the melting pot that is East London at the current time. The energy is great, it’s a vibrant part of town filled with artists, designers and people doing their thing, creating a constantly evolving landscape on an almost daily basis. It suits what we do very well and we wanted to leave our mark.
If you had to choose three projects that are particularly memorable, for whatever reason, what would they be?
Qubic tax – totally not what you’d expect to see in that context, an accountancy firm’s office – and very brave clients.
Heinz – a glorious story to bring to life and a huge project for us as a company
Google – got to indulge in graffiti, a personal favourite, and take it somewhere new
How would you say the design industry has changed since you started out in it?
I think design generally is being taken a lot more seriously now than it ever has, especially in the commercial space with people understanding the value of good design and the benefits it brings. You see spaces becoming interesting in a way they previously weren’t. This is down to the amount of tangents out there constantly re-defining how we see and use things. It’s a great time at the moment and the UK is very much at the forefront of this
Finally James, is there anything about Acrylicize you’d like to add?
We have evolved during the past ten years, however underpinning everything we do are our values that drive us: questioning everything, challenging ourselves to do things genuinely differently and maybe most important of all having fun doing it. These haven’t changed from day one and what manifests as a result of these I believe will continue to evolve. That’s what makes Acrylicize so exciting. Watch this space….