Michael Ayerst had his eureka moment in a bookshop in Oxford. And thus, Surface View – the infinite world of digital printing – was born. He took his idea to the V&A Museum who saw great potential for using their fabulous archive in new ways – murals, giant canvases, blinds and ceramic tiles. Today, Surface View has a wide range of curated collections from the archives of Marvel to The Natural History Museum, and here Micheal tells us tales of hanging out with punk bands and shares his recipe for perfect porridge…
How did you go from a bookshop to Surface View? I saw this lovely etching titled Cupid, after Praxiteles in Sanders of Oxford. The detail was perfect and I could just see how scale would transform it into an interesting contemporary interiors product. I could see how we could combine our digital technologies with great imagery to create something unique.
What makes Surface View unique? We are about combining great technology with great images. We carefully curate our collection and seek out interesting, eclectic imagery. We digital remaster the files, which allows us to scale and crop to create unique interior products. We are about juxtaposition as much as anything, I love how an old portrait, placed in a modern setting can becomes a new and beautiful image.
How does your working day begin? I am very boring. Wake at 6.45am every morning. I make porridge the same way (40g porridge, 300ml semi skimmed, a drizzle of Golden Syrup and a topping of hot milk) and struggle with the Guardian Quick Crossword. I normally end my day trying to finish the Guardian Quick Crossword.
We imagine huge machines, and a bit like a science lab, but what’s your workspace really like? Science lab might be over doing it, but we have over 6,000 square metres of space dedicated to the best digital technology. From my desk I can hear the quiet buzz and purr of the machines and for me that is the sound of a busy factory.
What’s been your favourite commission? I think one of my favourite commissions was at Southwark College, above. We installed a series of murals from The Natural History Museum Collection. To see classrooms transformed by us was great. I also like all the commissions that we get from around the world. I remember talking to this guy in Mumbai who bought a mural from our Hemingway’s Vintage Collection. I love the idea that Surface Views’ are going up around the world. We have even had a few famous customers one of whom bought several murals from our Marvel collection for his home on Malibu Beach.
We have the impression that there’s nothing Surface View couldn’t print on, or create. But what’s been your biggest technological challenge so far? We are just in the process of adding textiles and to this end we have invested in another large factory and a new machine that will print textiles up to 3.2m in width. This will allow us to stretch a fabric across a whole wall in one piece which will be a fantastic option to transform an interior.
How do you choose prints for the collection? This is the best part of my work. We look around and we try and uncover interesting, eclectic collections. We try and avoid the clichés and seek out the original. We have just added the Zina de Plagny collection and this involved travelling to Paris to speak with Marie Therese the daughter of Zina de Plagny textile designer to the Parisian elite during the Fifties. We then photographed her collection of originals at very high resolution and a new collection was born.
Which archive would you like to delve in to? The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. I love Japan and would love to go back to stay for a month or two. I have even taken Japanese lessons and I am ready to go.
Is your own home full of Surface View creations? We have a large Marvel stretched canvas (2 x 2.4m) in a family room. It is just free standing but it looks great. Then I have an Accent Mural of the original Cupid at the top of our stairs and a large V&A mural in our dining room.
What are you reading at the moment? I am just at the end of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s funny and poignant at the same time.
What’s your claim to fame? I hitched a lift with a university friend with the famous Rastafarian punk group Bad Brains from Washington DC to New York. We had just finished an epic trip from LA to Washington DC using Jack Kerouac’s On The Road as a guide to jumping freight trains and hitching rides. Bad Brains were great and put us on a guest list the following night and dropped us by Central Park, where we slept the night.
Who is your favourite designer or artist and why? I recently bought some furniture by Benchmark. Everything about it is just right. I love that it is made just a few miles from my home, in Kintbury near Hungerford, to such high standards. Each piece comes with a small pewter roundel that we had engraved with mine and wife’s names and the build date. I know it is a bit odd, but sometimes I will be reading in bed and I find myself just enjoying the look of the chest of drawers, and each morning when I pull open a drawer to try and find a pair of socks I get a little thrill. I can’t imagine ever wanting to slam a drawer shut! I think beautiful objects around the home can impart a soothing peace. Benchmark is part owned by Terence Conran and his design ethic prevails throughout. I think every piece of furniture that I have bought has been a real pleasure.
Describe your perfect weekend. I am training for the London Marathon [go on, sponsor Michael here] so my perfect weekend consists of a couple of long runs along the Thames footpath. Often I will run this with my good friend, Ian, and it’s good to catch up on the week. Generally though, my perfect weekends are always the same. They tend to come at the end of a good week at work and involve time spent with my wife and three children. I am a big fan of small pleasures and the laws of diminishing returns. What I mean by this is that it is easier to get pleasure out of the small things in life (like a chest of drawers or sitting down to watch Harry Hill’s TV Burp) than the big things (such as elaborate and expensive holidays). Talking of small pleasures I also try and go to most of Reading Football clubs home games.