Orignally published in the October 2014 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine.
Anthony Burrill is the good communicator. In a world of stealthy signs, slogans and messaging that relentlessly try to convince you to commit to certain lifestyles, Burrill has stripped down graphic design to its simplest form with profoundly straightforward phrases that can mean everything and something at the same time: I Like it. What is it? What Do You Mean, What Does it Mean? Work Hard and Be Nice to People. We speak with the UK-based graphic artist and designer about the importance of printers, gallery art and picking the right words.
Evan Pricco: Tell me about your work that is currently up at Made North as we speak now?
Anthony Burrill: The current exhibition at Made North in Sheffield is a collection of poster projects that tie into my book, I Like it. What is it? The idea of the exhibition was to show the physical posters that are reproduced in the book. It’s interesting to see how the work hangs together, how the forms and colours I choose have a definite visual style, something that’s not always a strong concern when I’m making the work.
How much of your time is spent as Anthony Burrill the fine artist, and how much is allotted to Anthony Burrill the graphic designer? Is there a difference in your creative energy when working on something commercial versus personal?
I don’t make a distinction between the two activities: The creative impulse comes from the same place. When I’m working on a commercial brief, my approach is slightly different. I have to think about the audience I’m speaking to, the tone of voice and the message being communicated. Also there are deadlines to deal with, which change the rhythm of work. When I’m focused on a personal project, I can let myself wander a little more, exploring possibilities and approaches that wouldn’t fit easily into a commercial context. I work on a wide variety of projects, which are all quite distinct, so I never get bored. I draw inspiration from both aspects of my work. They inform each other.
Do you remember the first phrase you used in a print?
The very first time I used a phrase in my work was when I was a student at the Royal College of Art in the early 1990s. I made a small zine called Negativity Stifles Creativity. It’s funny, looking back now, I felt a bit misunderstood by the tutors. The reality was that the work I was producing wasn’t very good, and their criticism was valid. It was only after I left college that I began to understand what I was trying to say and how to say it successfully.
My work has always had the same intention. I’ve followed my own path and maintained a consistent tone of voice. This wasn’t a particularly conscious decision. It’s always felt quite natural and honest. My work is an extension of my character. I like to keep things simple and direct, in both my work and my approach to life. Visually, the work has similar threads running through it that haven’t altered much over the past twenty years. I like simple colour palettes, a small range of typefaces and easily accessible materials. The main thing for me is to make work that engages and amuses people.
For any artist working the way that you do, how important is the relationship with your printer? You clearly acknowledge your partnership with Adams of Rye, so what is your process?
I work closely with two local printers, Adams of Rye for wood block typographic printing and Harvey Lloyd for screen printing. I’ve developed working relationships with them over the past ten years. Understanding how your work is produced is essential. It’s the only way you can experiment and move forward. I love working with craftsmen who have amazing skills. It’s also good to remind people what they are good at, which is something that people who do the same thing every day sometimes forget. I like to get away from the computer as much as I can. I find working with analogue techniques very satisfying. There’s more soul in ink and paper than there is in a microprocessor!
Do you consider yourself a Luddite? Or are you someone who works with all the materials that you have access to?
No, I’m not a Luddite at all. I embrace whatever comes along, whether that’s ancient printing methods or digital technology. I love the connectivity we can all achieve now. It adds to the richness of life. I’m old enough to remember life and work before the digital age. It wasn’t fun. There are aspects of the past that I remember with fondness, but they are far outweighed by the advantages and ease of communication we have now. The important thing is to appreciate the tools we have now and to exploit the positive aspects of the non-stop stream of information we are exposed to every day.
I love the North & South project. A wood type billboard just seems like a really interesting idea that brings together a lot of genres and techniques. Talk about the process and how that came together.
Print and Paste is an independent project started by a group of friends in Manchester. They joined together to rent out a city centre billboard for a couple of years, their intention being to invite a different image maker to make a new piece for the billboard each month. I was already aware of the project when I was invited to contribute, so I was keen to get involved. We talked about the idea of making a letterpress print that was big enough to fill the billboard, and we found a wood craftsman in Manchester to make the oversize letters. Then we brought them back down to Rye to print them. Once the individual letters had been printed, they were taken back up to Manchester and pasted on the billboard. It was an ambitious project that involved a lot of work from everyone involved. The result was great, and it’s something I want to do more of in the future.
The first time I saw your work was on a trip to London in 2012 at the Kemistry Gallery, then I figured out that you were the one behind the I Like It. What is It? piece. When you get a chance to do gallery work, knowing the great tradition of British designers who balance in the fine art world, what are the influences of note that you have looked to?
I look at a lot of work by both designers and artists from the past. I like British designers such as Abraham Games, Tom Eckersley and Alan Fletcher. I love pop art and the blankness of ‘70’s conceptualism. I’m still an art fan. I try and see as many exhibitions as I can and love the feeling of seeing a show that really connects.
We seem to be living in a good moment for design. I don't know if it’s because cleverly curated blogs appreciate and highlight the world of great design, or people are buying more books on the subject, or if the world of interior design, fine art and contemporary graphic design are all melding into one. I think the latter.
There’s definitely more of everything now; more visual culture, more music, more things to discover. I agree that it seems like a very rich and varied time we are living through. The ease of digital communication has a lot to do with it. We are all exposed to so much visual information. It can’t help but rub off on artists who are then spurred on to create their own projects.
For more information and to find prints by Anthony Burrill, visit anthonyburrill.com
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