It’s hard to find a label for Surry Hills designers blueandbrown. Do they create art? Or is it design? Or is it homewares?
Skye Vermeesch and Kirsten Brown have forged a unique design company which creates customised digital art that is affordable and funky yet somehow provocative at the same time.
Skye Vermeesch (the blue) and Kirsten Brown (the brown) design canvasses, which can be coloured and sized to specific requirements, and retail for the same price as many framed prints.
The pair is about to launch their new product called Candiy, which is a new spin on affordable art and is equally hard to label.
“It’s kind of an alternative design solution for walls,” explains Skye. “It’s a self-adhesive design with various organic shapes that can be used to dress up walls and will retail for $99.”
“Blueandbrown have always wanted to create beautiful art that people can use in their house that is also affordable. It was about art that you didn’t have to invest in.”
The pair has been invited to take part in Tokyo Design Week and the designers are creating an exhibition for the Australian Embassy in Japan in October.
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would be doing what I am doing now,” says Skye.
The designers – who met in Redfern East’s Kepos St park where their small children would play – both felt compelled to create something artistic, but also functional and useful.
Skye, who trained as a graphic artist, and Kirsten, who is a landscape architect, started blueandbrown two years ago to fill what they perceived as a gap in the interiors market.
They have exhibited in Singapore and last year won runner-up at Designex for best new product in surfaces and finishes.
The design idea born in the kids’ playground at Redfern now hangs in homes in Singapore and across Australia, a hotel in the Maldives and is about to be exhibited in Tokyo.
“The designs have found a place all over the world, which is quite bizarre when you think about it – I mean, it’s just something that a couple of Redfern mums dreamed up,” Skye says.
“We are about to go to London and hopefully we can find a place for our work there as well.
“All that homespun stuff about two mums meeting in the park to create a part-time business is just not what we are about anymore. We are as busy as can be and have just had to employ our first staff member.”
The pair has just moved into new workspace in Crown St Surry Hills, which is close to their two retail outlets, Atmosphere in Crown St and Interstudio in Darlinghurst’s Bourke St.
There are samples of their customised canvasses on the walls, which have now expanded to include a signature range by artist and photographer Ken Middleton and another new artist Greta Kool.
“We get Ken to create some one-off photos or art for us and he signs each canvas,” Skye explains.
“We set the signature range up after a few people questioned whether what we really did was art or not. For some reason, people seem to think that art has to be brush strokes on a canvas rather than just something that is beautiful or interesting.”
Skye, who trained at California’s College of Arts and Crafts, says she isn’t in the business of being an ‘artiste’ and thinks of herself as an applied artist.
“I am a designer who is used to working from a brief or from a request from a client and I create designs that have a use or a function,” she says.
Skye collects 20th century furniture and ceramics and says the design ideas for the various ranges of canvas designs – which have names like Links, Loom, Optropic and Eucalypso – seem to come from nowhere.
“I think they just ruminate in the back of my head and come out,” she says.
“I always design with a duality which is blue and brown, cool and warm, hard and soft, graphic and photographic or positive and negative.”
Kirsten is more inspired by organic shapes after spending nearly a decade practising as a landscape architect, including some time working in Chicago.
“It’s funny because art is a bit like landscaping in that people always leave it to the end of a project and somehow run out of money by that time – everyone is looking for high impact solutions without spending a lot of money,” she says.
Best café: Danks St Depot: This was the blueandbrown boardroom before we got our offices. There is only one thing to order – the scrambled eggs with truffle oil, it’s the best.
Best groceries: “St Mina Fruit & Veg on Crown St is the cheapest place to get your fruit and vegetables. A lot of the local caterers buy from there because they know you can get high quality at a market price.”
Best things to do with kids: “Feeding the horses at the police barracks on Baptist Street in Redfern is a good way to pass the time. And blueandbrown will always be grateful for the park in Kepos St.”
Best homewares store: “We are biased but we love Atmosphere for something really unique and different.”
This article was first published in Central Magazine.