When Guy Armitage notices the list of questions before him, he laughs: “It’s okay, I like talking.”
Armitage is the founder and CEO of Zealous, an online creative network, and Zealous X, a four-day creative exhibition beginning tomorrow. Stepping into the creative industry symbolises a new career path for Armitage.
In a shabby-chic café in Bethnal Green, across the road from his office, the 32-year-old sips on a double-espresso. “I’m always excited by things I don’t know. Curiosity has always been very natural to me.”
The self-proclaimed “strong-minded” individual could teach people a lot about following their passions and how to cure boredom with a drastic career change.
Guy, pronounced “Ghee”, was born in Switzerland and moved to Bethnal Green in his second year at King’s College University. He studied Artificial Intelligence, which he casually describes as “glorified computer science with psychology”.
Although “super-passionate” about Artificial Intelligence, Armitage admits it was difficult to pursue a career in the subject when he graduated in 2004. “Big companies weren’t embracing new ideas… I was too early.”
“I couldn’t find a job and finance was in its glory days, so I thought ‘Let’s try that'”.
After two years at the LSE, Armitage felt he had reached a ceiling and left. “I got bored. That happens to me quite a lot.”
Armitage moved to Cairo with a friend in 2007, where he founded his first business: an IT contracting and consultancy firm. In a windowless room, facing huge amounts of government-implemented red tape, Armitage and co. “grew [the business] very slowly.”
After three years in Egypt, Armitage and his business partner inevitably began to envision different futures for the business. And as his health deteriorated, Armitage returned to London, “without a plan.”
He chose not to return to the financial world after the 2008 collapse had left the industry weak and precarious. After re-evaluating his career, skills and passions, Armitage reflected upon his experience in acting and photography.
“I came to the conclusion: ‘Creativity is what I love.’”
Armitage approached his new direction with gusto and began creating stills for a friend’s film: “It sparked an interest and I realised I wanted to contribute to creativity.”
Working on the film also exposed the importance of collaboration for him: “It is the key to everything we do.”
With creativity and collaboration in mind, Armitage began working on Zealous; an idea conjured up towards the end of his time in Cairo. He needed the self-expressive environment of London to force him to act upon the idea: “Coming back threw cold water on me.”
“Creativity at the moment is segregated… My problem is that all of [creativity] integrates. Film is the perfect example of this collaboration.”
Zealous stimulates creative collaboration. It is an online portfolio site, a platform and “very intricate network” where artists showcase their work and who they have worked with. Armitage says: “I want it to be a space where you can say ‘I want to find any skill-set anywhere in the world for any kind of creative field.’”
But he is under no illusion that art can be experienced solely online: “We’re not trying to replace [artists’] world with the digital world… the digital world just helps [artists] do whatever they’re doing.
A core position of Zealous is to empower artists without funding. “Giving people money is not the solution,” Armitage said. “It is instilled in the arts eco-system that people are entitled to funding. I think there’s an alternative and people can now empower themselves and make the most out the tools they have available to them… I want to increase exposure to the opportunities available to those in art.
The inaugural Zealous X exhibition, beginning on November 28 at Bargehouse of Southbank, is a “physical incarnation of what we’re doing online (on Zealous)”.
Zealous X is a “primordial soup”, where creators in film, performance, music, art and photography, can integrate. They can also expose their work and stories to journalists, investors and supporting art organisations.
Armitage now lives in Deptford Bridge but says Bethnal Green still holds a special place in his heart. When asked what he loves about East London, he says: “We still have brilliant story-tellers, who have disappeared from the West. There is a feeling of community here and there is an opportunity to collaborate.”
Armitage’s passion for creativity is undeniable and has grown ever since his mother handed him his first FisherPrice camera. He even recalls the earliest photo he took in Paris at the age of five, capturing his sister’s shoulder.
So, will art sustain Armitage’s curiosity for a while? “Art is keeping me on my toes, I don’t think I’ll get bored for a very long time.”
Yet, he hints: “I have loads of future plans.”