How much of your time is spent as Anthony Burrill the fine artist, and how much is it spent Anthony Burrill the graphic designer? And for you, 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 changes 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, they are all quite distinct, so I never get bored. I draw inspiration from both aspects of my work, they both inform each other.
Do you remember the first phrase you used in a print? And what did your work look like before you started working with language and words? Or has it always been like this?
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 nineties. 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 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 succesfully.
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 in the way you do, how important is your relationship with the "printer." You are very clear to acknowledge your partnership with Adams of Rye. 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 that have amazing skills, it’s also good to remind people what they are good at, 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 how that came together and the process behind that?
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 was 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 was keen to get involved. We talked about the idea of making a letterpress print that was big enough to fill the billboard, we found a wood craftsman in Manchester to make the oversize letters, then 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 for everyone involved, the result was great and 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. And then I pieced it together that you were the one behind the "I Like It. What is It?" work. When you get a chance to do gallery work, and knowing the great tradition of British designers who balance in the fine art world, do you have any 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 seventies 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.
You have done a ton of workshops and lectures around the world. What sort of questions do you find yourself answering a lot of from creatives trying to get a lesson from the art / design world?
I encourage people to be honest, about themselves and their work. The better you understand yourself, the better your work becomes. It’s important to be happy in your work, it is reflected in the work you produce. A lot of creatives who work solely in a commercial context miss the freedom expression you can achieve through personal work. I encourage people to start self authored projects, to get back to basics and remember what it is they find exciting and inspiring.
We seem to be living in a good moment for design. I don't know if its because cleverly curated blogs and tumblrs really emphasize the world of great design, or people are buying books on the subject more, or if the world of interior design, fine art, and contemporary graphic design are all melding into one (I think the latter). What do you think is fueling this awareness?
There’s definitely more of everything now, more visual culture, more music, more things to find out about. I agree that it seem 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 creatives who are then spurred on to create their own projects.
Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine.