Graphic artist, print-maker and designer Anthony Burrill speaks to us about his creative career, fascination with fonts and wondering around The EY exhibition: The World Goes Pop
So, Anthony, why Type?
I’ve been fascinated by typography for as long as I can remember. As a youngster at school I would copy the logos of my favourite bands into the back of my exercise books, paying particular attention to the letterforms. My approach to work has always been very ‘graphic’, using solid shapes and bold colours. It’s my natural visual handwriting and the style that I feel most comfortable with. I experimented with collage at art school, using letterforms as abstract shapes to make my work. Gradually the words and their meaning became more important, becoming the main focus of the work. I subsequently developed a way of working using letterpress to produce my work, I like the limitations of the process and the impact it has on the design and layout of the posters. I use a limited selection of typefaces, I don’t want the design of the posters to be too distracting from the words. My aim is to communicate the message as simply as possible using the minimum visual means.
What do you think technology has a positive or negative impact on the creation of typefaces?
Digital technology has given us an endless choice that can be bewildering to navigate. There is more of everything today, the good and the bad. My answer to this is to reduce the number of options as much as possible, to be rigorous in my choice of type and images I work with. My roots are in the pre-digital era, I have an analogue brain. My working methods are informed by the simple production methods I learnt at college: screenprint, letterpress, photocopying and hand lettering. During the digital revolution we went through a strange period in typography. Type became illegible, layered, textured and impossible to read. I never responded to that aesthetic, it seemed to go against basic communication, making design useless. Over the past ten years we seem to have returned to a simpler form of communication. There is still endless experimentation and a huge range of visual styles and approaches, but the aim now is to communicate.
What do you think is happening in the brain when we recognise a brand or product at a glance?
We are constantly bombarded by commercial promotion, it’s impossible to escape. Our lives are governed by our choices, what we choose reflects how we want the world to see us. We are all looking for a way of making our lives match our dreams, whether we admit it or not. Brands exploit human nature to sell us things, we’re hard wired to respond to the novel and the unexpected. We see what we want to see, how a brand relates to us personally.
What’s the most successful logo you’ve ever seen?
Logos that are part of our culture have a huge impact through repetition, we see them every day and they reinforce the brand. When I think of the most successful I see McDonalds, Nike, VW, Coca Cola. These logos are abstract, but convey such powerful messages. They are so much part of our every day life they become part of the background, they are embedded in our brains. When you see them in isolation and out of context they turn back in to abstract symbols. Arrangements of shapes that when looked at again feel strangely neutered.
Do you live by the messages you use in your work?
Yes, I do. The messages have all come out of my life experience, I try to make them as truthful as possible. Each one is a result of a conversation, an event or a personal observation. I avoid using quotes from other people as I feel they don’t have the personal connection that I look for in my work. I have used other people’s quotes, but these have been in the context of a commission. When I work with other people’s words I try to choose quotes that fit with my own work so that it produces a larger body of work that has a unified message. I believe in what I do, that it has a positive message that other might find useful.
Is there a single image from early in your life that made you want to be an artist and designer?
The record sleeve design for Being Boiled by The Human League was my first experience of design and music coming together to make something that really excited me. I could see how the sleeve had been designed, using Letraset typography and clip art to assemble the layout. I was familiar with the source material from the Letraset catalogue I owned. The sleeve is simple and has a niece charm, it looks like a diagram of a record sleeve, produced with minimal means. Each part of the design is significant, it is stripped down but still incredibly rich in meaning.
Pop Art was revolutionary in that it removed some of the hierarchies of ‘high art’, with the use of things like found objects, recycled images taken from magazines and household paint. Can you say something about the materials you favour using in your work?
I see my work as collage combining existing materials to produce a new piece of work. Everything is an assemblage; taking ideas, experiences and feelings and combining them to produce something new. I have definite way of working, a palette of fonts and colours that I return to. Within this restricted palette there is a huge range for experimentation and development. I like to use readily available affordable materials, to restrict myself and use the generic wherever possible. My processes are straight forward, there are no lengthy processes. I like the work to be simple and clear. Truly original ideas are rare, my work is concerned with taking the everyday and amplifying it to reveal a new meaning. To say something about the everyday that makes us look again and appreciate simplicity.
My work is an extension of me and my personality. I try to be as honest and open as possible, to say things that come from me directly. I’m happy in my work and I want to communicate that, to show how it’s possible to make personal work that crosses over from graphic design to a wider public.
In Bucan Art, Boris Bućan makes very explicit visual reference to famous global brands, modifying and appropriating them. Why do you think he was trying to say with these works?
I think with Bucan Art, Boris Bućan was looking at the brands as signifiers of a new culture, a global connectivity that was beginning to shop the world. At the time the global nature of brands was in its infancy, I think he was imagining how the world was changing and how these brands would become international. Informing our everyday lives and signalling the loss of regional individuality. A world run by commerce for its own benefit, of corporations becoming more powerful that governments. I think he was concerned about where the individual fitted in to this new scheme. His work still resonates, maybe even more now than when it was first made.
How do other creative disciplines inform your work?
I’m interested in everything, whether it’s music, architecture, writing, food or travel. There are so many rich experiences out there for us to explore. I’ve travelled widely, I started from a young age. I think that helped spark my interest in discovering new things. Every day something new comes along to excite and stimulate. It’s part of leading a creative and happy life, to look and discover. Then to turn those discoveries in to something useful that can help make life fun and worthwhile.
Your famous WORK HARD & BE NICE TO PEOPLE has been much copied. How do you feel about that?
I’m always happy to see both sides of the argument. I’m flattered that people have responded to it so positively, it’s become my defining piece of work. I’m happy that people like it, the sentiment still rings true, it’s something I believe in. It’s a simple truth that works, it is the root to a happy life. I think it’s the price of popularity that it will be copied and re-made by other people.
What do you do when you have a creative block?
I find that a creative block comes when I don’t want to do something. There is something inside that is blocking the flow of ideas when I’m not excited by a project. The best way to avoid it is to try and think of a new way around the problem, to come at it from a different angle. Practically that means changing my environment, going for a walk. Doing something else for a while then returning to the problem with a fresh brain. I’m a big believer in sleeping on problems, letting your subconcious work on a problem while your brain is resting. Mornings are good for approaching problems feeling fresh.
What advice would you give your 18 year old self?
Stay enthusiastic, throw yourself in to things and don’t be afraid!
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