Career Profile: James Burke, Acrylicize

As part of our Career Profile series, we had the privilege of speaking with James Burke, Founder & Global Creative Director at Acrylicize. We’re pleased to share James’ career so far and hope you can find inspiration in his journey to drive forward your own creative career.

The Constant Need for Approval by James Burke

Please could you introduce yourself and your studio?

I’m James Burke and I do a lot of creative things – I’m an artist, designer, Creative Director, musician and entrepreneur. I’m really interested in the Energy created through all these pursuits which I refer to as The Joy of Expression. I founded Acrylicize as a continuation of my Contemporary Art degree project and have continued it for the past 20 years. More recently Acrylicize has presented The Art House – creative and cultural hubs in both London and New York to further celebrate the Joy of Expression of the  wider community.  I also make art works outside of Acrylicize and show with galleries in the UK and US 

When/how did you discover that you had a passion for art/design?

My passion for Art and Design was born when I learnt to play the drums aged 6 years old. I’ll never forget that first experience of creative expression. I was hooked for life and have been chasing that feeling ever since!

James Burke performs at Root Down London UK

Through music, I got interested in all types of graphic based design  including album covers, T-shirts, band logos, tattoos, poster design etc and that set me off. Hip Hop and Graffiti were also huge influences on me creatively and taught me about remixing, sampling, cutting and pasting. I love making things out of new combinations and testing the limits of what art can be. The conceptual artists taught me that. 

What is your educational background and what did you take away from your education that has been the most vital throughout your career?

I did Art Foundation which set me up to explore the things I was interested in but in truth I didn’t know exactly what kind of artist / creative I wanted to be until I went to university. There we were exposed to so much that opened my mind, from the pop artists of the 60s to Semiotics and hyperreality through the likes of Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard, to conceptual art through the likes of Joseph Kosuth, Marcel Duchamp, Yoko Ono and more contemporary’s like Gavin Turk. Once I understood that ideas could be the art itself this opened up a whole space for me to work within

Countours for Tableau Software Seattle USA

How did your career progress?

I actually carried on my final degree project after uni finished –  2 artworks exploring the boundaries of art and how to connect people to it and joined up with my friend Paul Arad to go out into the big wide world looking for opportunities. Someone asked me to customise an artwork for his home and the idea of art as identity started to take shape. From there we found other environments whose story we could tell through art and we were away. We had taken the notions of Fine Art and Brand and blended them together to make something engaging for both us and our clients. We’ve been exploring this ever since. 

The Middle Class by James Burke

What have been your career highlights?

It’s been the most unbelievable journey  with so many amazing projects, clients, moments but to pick a few… Winning Wembley stadium as a project was very special for us. We were fairly fresh out of university and was a huge deal for us to be contributing to our national stadium and working with such iconic imagery and photography. Our first time at the RA summer show was also very special. I had personal work there as well as acrylicize work and the two rooms were curated by David Mach and Grayson Perry, two of my favourite artists. I would also point to opening our studio in New York. This was a big moment for us as it’s a city we’ve always loved, so to be part of the creative landscape there was special. But above all it’s been working with such amazing people. So much talent and creative energy and that’s really what it’s all about. Being in the moment with other people on a shared mission. That for me is everything. 

Could you tell me about 3 key projects you’ve worked on and why were they so important to you and your career path?

Freddy Mercury at Live Aid for Wembley Stadium by Acrylicize London UK

As mentioned, Wembley Stadium is definitely up there. It had just been built and through a serendipitous sequence of events we were introduced to the then Wembley CEO and invited to pitch on producing artworks for the iconic venue. We put everything we had into that pitch and somehow managed to convince them to let us do it. We ended up doing over 500 permanent pieces throughout the stadium and it really kick started us with working with bigger clients and on more ambitious schemes.

Ambient Chroma for Spotify by Acrylicize New York USA

I think working with Spotify across the world has also been incredibly rewarding. Having started my creative journey with the drums i’ve always been deeply connected to music so getting to work with such an amazing story and bringing the idea of audio to life through art has been so much fun.

London is a Forest for Landsec by Acrylicize London UK

The third would have to be one of our latest public pieces – London is a Forest in Soho. It’s such a prime location to make a permanent public artwork and having been so interested in the convergence of nature and technology, this was the perfect project to bring that idea to life and share it with millions of people. 

What do you feel are your core skills?

I think I’m naturally a conceptual thinker. My brain is constantly looking around and scanning the world analytically – taking nothing for granted and with this information and critical analysis I have ideas which I then seek to bring to life. It might be for an artwork, might be for a business, might be for an event but they usually always centre around bringing people together in some way. I tend to naturally think high level and enjoy building things and playing with rules. One of our values at Acrylicize is Be The game which basically gives us licence to make up the rules and not worry too much about pigeonholing ourselves or trying too hard to define what we are doing too closely. This gives us huge freedom to follow our truth as individuals and as a collective. 

Bespoke tiled artwork for LinkedIn by Acrylicize London UK

Why did you decide to launch Acrylicize?

I had an idea and I needed a vehicle through which to deliver it. I wanted to have the freedom to explore ideas without any set rules or existing constructs. I was always interested in the commercial world that we live in and saw it as a facilitator to making art happen. I also saw it as a way to bring people together and work closely with amazing and talented minds. Given that the project was born in art school I really wanted to capture that collaborative spirit. A group of creatives in a room, learning and growing with each other, sharing ideas and inspiration – its like one big energy exchange. 

What would you like to achieve through your work with Acrylicize?

We are really focused on celebrating the Joy of Expression. For us as individuals within the company expressing ourselves through the projects we deliver but also through the culture we have created at Acrylicize, one of caring, support, personal growth. Our first value is Lead with Love and becomes a key barometer for everything we do. We’re also very focused on Wellness, creating a great place to come to work, be inspired and find flow and we place a huge amount of time and energy on the impact of the studio both in terms of the work we produce but also the legacy we leave behind through our community work, education programs, our artist in residence scheme and cultural event programming. 

The Art House, Acrylicize’s home in East London

Can you tell us about some of your hobbies and interests? Do they also inform your work?

As mentioned I am a drummer and have always played in bands and really enjoy that collective experience. I’m sure that influenced me to work with others in the art space. I love the outdoors and recently left London behind to move closer to nature. I think this is really good for the soul and nowhere is the joy of expression more abundant than in nature, so it has become my greatest creative teacher! I am also an avid mediator. I meditate an hour a day everyday and have done for the past 4 years. This teaches me to connect to my instinct and intuition and calm the mind to become more focused and present.  

Signed and dated bespoke Acrylicize spacer from 2006

What are your plans for the future?

Right now I’m focusing on building our ecosystem out to reach its full potential across the Art house and Acrylicize. It’s really the culmination of the past 20 years and is about joining the dots between everything we’re doing in the most holistic way we can. I am also working on a really interesting and ambitious Acrylicize self initiated project.

The Manchester Lamps for Property Alliance Group by Acrylicize Manchester UK

Cant say too much about it at this stage but it is a sound based, participatory experience  about human connection using biofeedback. Watch this space. We are also working on evolving our Manchester Lamps project into a global series which is really exciting — we have new locations coming soon. And on a personal level I’ve just launched my new website which showcases all of my projects from Acrylicize to my solo practice which can be seen here 


About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
View all posts by Alys Bryan →