Anthony Burrill: “I believe you can change a person’s perspective through art”

Miruna Macsim 15/09/2023 | 14:01

A vibrant community of global thinkers and makers. Part festival, part talks, part art, part undefined, it is an experience in constant evolution. UNFINISHED 2023 will take place September 22-24, in the House of Ideas in Bucharest.

BR sat down with Anthony Burrill, a graphic artist who combines a knack for simplicity that packs a punch with analogue craft skills and powerful, positive messages. While his pieces all bear the marks of his letterpress process, Burrill’s direct and multidisciplinary approach is constantly evolving, combining tradition with bold new approaches and technologies. His work is held in the permanent collections of the V&A and The Design Museum in London, The Cooper-Hewitt in New York, and has been exhibited in galleries all around the world.

By Romanita Oprea


What made you decide to become a graphic artist?

Growing up I was always interested in visual arts. At school I spent all my time in the art room, it was my favourite place to be and felt inspiring. I had great art teachers who encouraged me and suggested I went to art school. I enjoyed fine art, but was more interested in applying my creativity to visual communication. I like to tell stories through my work and it was this need to connect with people visually that helped me decide on a career in graphic design.

How hard was it to create your own path and individuality?

It’s something that has developed naturally as I gained more experience and began to understand who I was and what I wanted to say. I have strong opinions on the world I see around me and I channel that into my work. I think the strongest work is made without compromise and that is something I strive for. Working in collaboration is important, it’s better when the people you are working with understand the kind of work you make and how it should be presented. You need to have strong self belief and conviction in the ideas you are communicating.

What were your goals at the beginning of your career and how did you work towards them?

I knew I wanted to work independently and pursue my own interests as much as possible. I looked at the work of people I admired and tried to emulate their success. Also, my contemporaries were inspiring and helped me to understand what I was capable of. I’ve always had a sense of courage in my work and this has helped me to take on large scale projects that stretch me both creatively and personally.

What do you believe to have been the best professional decisions you took by now and why?

To listen to my own instincts and make changes when I needed to. To believe in myself and my work and realise my ambitions. Sometimes taking the harder route can be more rewarding.

What do you still wish to accomplish professionally?

I want to carry on making interesting work that connects with people and to have opportunities where I can explore new ways of working with like-minded collaborators.

You have a passion for creativity without limitations. Please tell us more about that.

You can only work within areas you understand fully. As a designer you should understand the history of visual communication and appreciate why we use the tools we do. These groundings are important, but it is also vital to explore new areas to develop your work. There are countless ways we can apply our visual thinking in the world. Typography is my main focus and primary concern. By looking at type in all its forms I can develop my visual language and push my work into new territories.

Why do you like simplicity so much?

When things are simple there’s less to go wrong. This is true for life as it is for art. I like to concentrate my ideas down to their simplest form. The words and phrases that I use are carefully chosen to say as much as possible, without being too specific about one particular moment or event in time. I aim to make my work universal and timeless. By using simple means this givesthe work more chance to still be relevant in the future.

You set yourself boundaries to work in, choosing simple forms of production and using minimal visual means to communicate my message. Please tell us more about that as well.

I believe we are more creative and resourceful when we have less to work with. If there are fewer options available, we have to think creatively to realise our ideas. By acting with simplicity, we use less resources and reduce the amount of waste.

You also have a curiosity about the world and people in it. How hard was it for you during the pandemic from this point of view?

I love being around people, but I also value the time I get to spend alone in my studio. The level of concentration I can achieve when I’m working undisturbed takes me to new and interesting places. I see my work unfolding and connecting with itself in lots of different ways when I’m in this state of deep thought. My studio is at home, so I was able to spend lots of time working during the pandemic. I was still connected with friends and collaborators and I think the extra time I had without distractions took my work into an even deeper place of understanding. I organised my archive during this time, took stock of my work and devised new ways of developing my ideas.

How do you like to discover people and how is this impacting your craft?

I use the usual social media channels, attend industry events and see exhibitions wherever I happen to be travelling. I enjoy discovering new work and making connections with my own practice and experiences. I’m lucky to have been working as a designer for nearly thirty years and it is this breath of experience that combines and makes the work I produce now.

You believe in the great power of black and white. Tell us more about how is it inspiring you?

I love the bold simplicity of black and white and its graphic nature. It’s simpler and cheaper to produce work with one colour, there is less to go wrong and it speeds up the production process. By using a reduced palette of colours and materials you produce a body of work that has a unified look and feel. It becomes more about the whole of my work rather than any individual piece.

You once said you hope to make people think. Do you also believe in the power of introspection brought up by art?

I believe you can change a person’s perspective through art. You can open doors to new ways of life and suggest ideas that can be adopted and adapted by other people. I aim to pass on my insights to other people that have proved useful.

How hard is to be a designer in 2023?

It’s always had it challenges. First it was hard to make a name for myself. Then it was difficult to keep going and improve. But this is what makes us keep going. To continually improve and push ourselves to make new work. It’s only by keeping going and being consistent with the quality of work you produce that you get noticed and eventually get to make the work you want to make.

What’s the secret of a great poster?

Effectively communicating an idea that connects with as many people as possible with wit and a touch of humour.

Do you follow trends? Why?

I don’t follow trends consciously. Individuality is important to me and I want to present my work without compromise or reference to anybody else’s vision. My work is my self expression. It comes directly from me. As my work has developed through my career it has become more focused and I believe a true expression of who I am and how I see myself in the world.

How do design and DJing go hand in hand for you?

DJing is strictly a hobby for myself and my friends. I love to listen to music and have fun with my friends. There are many aspects of visual culture that overlap with music and how we respond to it. Music takes you to a different level of perception, it’s mysterious and beautiful. I want to have this same spirit in my design work. To connect with ideas and thoughts through emotion and understating.

How did you discover your passion for music and decide you wanted to do more with it?

I’ve always loved music and knew that it could take me to interesting and inspiring places. I’m in awe of musicians and how they can connect with our emotions through sound. It’s an amazing power that inspires some to make my own work. I guess I’m a frustrated musician and I filter that experience through my work. Whenever I work with musicians I find it exciting and inspiring. Music has a freedom and a feel that cannot be fully explained, it’s about feeling and connecting with emotions that are deep inside.

Where and how do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration everywhere. I love to explore and see new things and have experiences that inform my work. I’m always open to new inspiration and try to be open-minded about unfamiliar things.

What expectations do you have about Unfinished 2023 and from Romania?

I hope it will be a fun and inspiring weekend surrounded by interesting people and places.

How does the word Unfinished inspire you?

When something is unfinished there is still room to change and adapt. Everything is a work in progress. Nothing is ever final and there is always room for new insights and experiences.

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