The ‘Godfather of the graphic art scene’ is quite a title to uphold. Anthony Burrill however has proven many times over that he not only deserves it, but may indeed need promoting up the ranks a bit.
Best known for his woodblock prints of uplifting, thought-provoking slogans (Work Hard and Be Nice to People), Burrill’s simple aesthetic and wit will stick with you, which his clients the London Underground, The Economist and The British Library well know. A keen collaborator and master of layout, Burrill combines an instinctive handling of colour and composition across a range of media, including film making, animation, illustration and three-dimensional work.
His new exhibition, ‘Clear Your Head’ at Outline Editions comes hot on the heels of his Pick Me Up residency at Somerset House, where he collaborated with Emily Forgot and Wilfred Wood to spectacular results, inviting the world to watch and join in. Clear Your Head is comprised entirely of new work with thirty text based giclée prints and fabric hangings, furniture and spray stencil prints made in collaboration with Michael Marriot and Wilfred Wood. If the past is anything to go by, it’s set to be another rollicking success, a source of inspiration and an education for the aspiring designers amongst us.
i-D Online was privileged enough to talk to the man himself on the eve of this latest show…
You are also working with the sculptor Wilfrid Wood. How did you manage the jump from 2D to 3D?
The work with Wilfrid consists of prints we’ve made together. We initially collaborated during my recent residency at Somerset House. The prints that we are showing in this new exhibition are made using hand cut stencils spray-painted with ink.
What do you get creatively from the workshops?
I get a lot out of the workshops, it’s great to see a range of people, from children to grannies getting creative with paper, scissors and glue. There is a real resurgence in interest in craft skills at the moment, it seems like everybody feels the need to get involved with hand-made techniques. I see a lot of student work that rejects the slickness of the computer. It’s a good thing, it encourages people’s creativity.
In ‘Clear Your Head Everyday’, you are working with Michael Marriott again, how do you work together?
Michael and I collaborate very easily. We’ve worked on quite a number of exhibitions and projects together. Our ideas overlap in lots of ways, and we both laugh at the same jokes. It’s hard to say where the ideas come from, it develops out of a conversation, we suggest things to each other, then it all develops and works itself out.
How do you feel about the fast-paced rise in technology within the graphics world?
Are basic skills such as drawing/hand crafted collage being lost? What does this mean for the graphics graduates who aren’t being taught these skills? As I mentioned earlier, I feel that there is a real return to craft skills. When everybody started to use computers to design on, all the work looked very ‘computerised’ but I think we are well and truly over that stage now. The computer has been around for so long that it’s almost invisible. Students use technology quite unselfconsciously as a tool alongside drawing, painting, printmaking, etc. As a result the work looks and feels more personal, more human.
If you could take a snapshot of the Graphic Design industry at the moment, what would it look like?
Graphic design is just like every other business, the interesting bits are round the edges, not in the mainstream. The recent explosion in ‘graphic art’ has created its own culture that is well away from commercial graphic design. The graphic art scene has a very independent feel, populated with like-minded designers and artists, making work for each other and a wider public.
You are very involved in the music world, with the rise in download and the fall of the physical copy, how do you think this has changed music imagery?
The golden age of sleeve art is definitely over, although strangely there seems to be even more music related imagery around than ever before. Much of it is generated within the corporate world of the major labels. As ever the interesting work is made by the smaller labels and artists – the people with real passion and love for what they are making.
You are famous for your simple aesthetic. Is the process behind the final piece just as clean and simple?
I spend a long time on projects, developing ideas and reducing the amount of visual information. My aim is to communicate the most by using the least.
What does your sketchbook look like?
I carry a small black notebook, I tend to write things down rather than sketch ideas out. I have lots of ideas for word combinations so I try and write them down when I think of them, although I believe that if an idea is good enough you will be able to remember it without writing it down!
What does your studio look like?
Very neat! I like to keep the space clear and empty. My studio is in the garden of our house, I have to shut the window when the bird songs gets too loud!