Posted Monday 27 June 2022
Visitors to multi-national consumer goods company Unilever's Kingston-based leadership retreat, Four Acres, are getting an added dash of inspiration thanks to creative Kingston School of Art students. A selected group of students and recent graduates specialising in subjects ranging from ceramics to illustration and photography have combined their talents to produce a collection of artwork based on a number of Unilever's brands for Four Acres' break-out rooms.
The high-profile commission came about after Unilever invited Kingston University's creative agency, Studio KT1, to pitch proposals for the bespoke pieces as part of work to remodel the Four Acres site, a former country home set in spacious surrounds that serves as Unilever's flagship leadership and learning centre. The project, which began before lockdown and continued throughout the pandemic, saw the group present ideas to a panel of judges before creating and delivering pieces to go on display in the complex.
Nine successful students and recent graduates worked in collaboration with leading art and design studio Acrylicize, which had been entrusted with sourcing and curating works for the Four Acres site. Each student was assigned a specific brand and asked to create a piece that prompted curiosity, posed questions, provided answers and inspired.
The up-and-coming artists created sculpture, artificial intelligence imaging, illustrations, fine art and photography in response, working to the brand guidelines of such household names as Marmite, Lynx, Persil, Vaseline, Surf, Knorr, Hellmann's and Lifebuoy. During the process, the students were mentored by creatives from Acrylicize, as well as working with Unilever's brand teams to develop their commissions.
The completed works have now been installed at the centre as part of Unilever's collection of curated art. They include a series of vases produced by product and furniture design graduate Ellie Perry encapsulating the values of food brand Knorr. Each of the ceramic pieces was inspired by laboratory vessels and glazed using industrial waste sourced from local glass polishers that would have otherwise gone to landfill.
Words and numbers emblazoned on the vases represent some of Knorr's key sustainability credentials, with the number 95 on the front of one of the vases highlighting the fact that 95 per cent of its vegetables and herbs are sustainably grown. "My practice is informed by sustainability, making small changes to the process that add up to a larger whole," Ellie, 24 from London, explained. "To be able to work with a brand of this size as one of my first commissions after graduating was a huge boost for me. It's been a great experience to have such a direct dialogue with a client, working with a lot of information about the brand and gaining such valuable insight."
Final year illustration animation student Georgie Sweet, meanwhile, produced a hand-painted illustration encapsulating Persil's key values of sustainability, growth and childhood connection with nature. "I created a stylised graphic on handmade paper, featuring rough edges and textures," she said. "Blending my way of working with Persil's brand values and vision was a really interesting challenge. Working with Studio KT1 in this way has been very exciting for my development as I look to establish a career within the arts."
Collaborating with Marmite gave fine art student 23-year-old Brandon Coyle an opportunity to create screen prints acknowledging the brand's popular love it or hate it advertising campaigns. One of the two large prints shows a small boy throwing a jar of Marmite towards the viewer, while the other spotlights a woman cradling a jar of the yeast extract-based spread lovingly in her arms. The striking images use the brand's colours of yellow and brown and incorporate elements of collage and printmaking.
"I have fond memories of the love it or hate it advertising used by Marmite from my own childhood," Brandon said. "I even originally wanted to use Marmite to tone the prints and, although I found this didn't quite work, I learned a lot about using it as a texture along the way."
Collaboration was key to the project, with Brandon exchanging ideas with his fellow artists throughout the creative process. "I spent a lot of time at the print studio with the technicians and other artists on this project," he said. "Having that back and forth was really helpful in solidifying my own ideas. My time at Kingston School of Art has instilled in me how important it is to collaborate with people wherever I can."
Studio KT1 enterprise projects lead Claire Selby said the initiative had given the young artists an invaluable opportunity to work on a live brief, applying skills from their degree courses. The student and graduate work was a fitting complement to the rest of the collection curated by Acrylicize and would make a lasting impact, creating an inspiring setting in which global brand leaders would be able to brainstorm, collaborate and strategise, she added.
"Studio KT1 gives our students a flavour of both the corporate and art commissioning worlds. Contending with the challenges of the pandemic throughout the process, our students have gained confidence, experience and resilience, while working with a number of different stakeholders, including world class brands," she said.
General manager for Unilever's Four Acres leadership retreat Adrian Pagdin said the company had been impressed by way the project participants had risen to their creative challenge. "Working with aspiring local artists who took such time and consideration to interpret our brands creatively was a hugely enjoyable process for all. We now have a series of new installations added to our permanent Unilever collection, which are imaginative and technically executed works that will be appreciated for their beauty and emotional power."
Martin Mayorga, Curator at Acrylicize, said a key element of the curation was the partnership with StudioKT1. "Through our 'Educational Outreach Program', we have enabled early-career artists to create bespoke artworks based on Unilever's brands and gain first-hand experience in the art industry," he said.
Four Acres is located a short distance from the site of a new development in the centre of Kingston which, from 2025, will become home to a new Unilever Campus, for around 2,000 employees. The development is on the location of Unilever's existing office, which the company has occupied for nearly 50 years.