In his 20-year design career, Anthony Burrill (pictured below with Francesca Wade and Barbara Soalheiro from Mesa & Cadeira and Iki the dog) has worked for Wallpaper*, London Underground and Collette in Paris, exhibited everywhere from Tokyo to Milan and earned cult status for his upbeat slogan prints, such as “Work Hard & Be Nice to People”. As his new show opens at Kemistry Gallery, we ask Anthony how he started out…
When did you decide you wanted to be a graphic designer?
I was always interested in visual culture when I was growing up. This was quite a while ago – in the late ’70s, early ’80s – and there wasn’t the amount of stuff that there is now. Music – and record covers – was the thing that got me into it first but I didn’t realise you could have a job doing that. I did a foundation and then did a degree in graphic design. I graduated form the Royal College in ’91. That was before the internet and all that stuff.
Was it tough to break into the industry at that time?
Yes, really hard, because you didn’t have the networks that are around now. I was shy and I didn’t like ringing people up on the phone, so it was hard for me to get my work out there. I started off by making little photocopied books and postcards and sending those out, and that developed into making posters and the kind of work that I do now. My first big project was for Hans Brinker Budget Hotel. I got that through my girlfriend. She was working on a campaign with Erik Kessels [of communications agency KesselsKramer]. He said he needed somebody to do some typography and she said, “I know somebody who could do some type for you”.
It shows how important personal connections are.
Definitely. That whole thing of putting yourself out there and creating your own networks is important – especially for students. It’s easy to connect now through the internet but you can’t replace actually meeting people.
The work in your latest show, How to say the most with the least, was created during a six-day workshop you led in São Paulo with educational project Mesa & Cadeira. Tell us a bit about this process.
My work’s concerned with trying to explain things in a simple way, so the idea of the workshop was to get people think about their life philosophy [like this]. I started off by showing them my work and how it has developed over the past 20 odd years. We had a group discussion and everybody picked phrases from a big wall full of photographs and text. There were 12 of us in the workshop and each one of us is represented [in the exhibition] by one of the phrases we picked. The participants were all based in São Paulo. There were a couple of designers, a few art directors, a few journalists – it was quite a broad spectrum.
I spend a lot of time in the studio by myself and that’s when I’m happiest, but I also like to work in collaboration. I’ve got a network of people who I work with regularly. I think it’s [important] having a balance between collaborative work and doing your own thing.
Do you have a typical working routine?
Every day is different. I do a few commercial projects but most of my work now tends to be my own things. I work a lot with my wife and we think of things to do together, new prints. It’s a constant stream of making new things and taking on commissions that I feel will work with the stuff I’m doing.
How can young designers best juggle commissioned work and personal projects?
One thing really feeds into another. You need to do commercial things to pay the bills. When I left college I did absolutely everything. Anything that came along I did, and I think you just need to throw yourself into it when you start. It’s only now that I’m at the stage where I can pick and choose but that took 20 years – it doesn’t happen overnight.
Make work that you believe in, collaborate with like-minded people and try to make your own things happen. Don’t rely on other people – you’ve got to do it for yourself.
All images courtesy of Anthony Burrill.
How to say the most with the least runs from 5 to 28 July 2012 at Kemistry Gallery, London. On 12 July, Anthony Burrill and Mesa & Cadeira will host a seminar on the philosophy and process of the workshop and their experiences in São Paulo called Burrill in Brazil.
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