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16th May 2017

Design Undefined #3: Q&A with Anthony Burrill

In the world of Anthony Burrill, it’s usually him asking the questions — or at least telling us what to do. Graphic works such as Who are you what do you want?, Work hard & be nice to people and Ask more questions are instantly recognisable and have become iconic in contemporary graphic and print design. The celebrated artist and print-maker’s work is held in permanent collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York and has been exhibited in galleries around the world including Barbican, Walker Art Center, the Design Museum and, as of 23 May, Clerkenwell London.

Ahead of Design Undefined #3 — where Burrill will showcase a collaborative furniture project alongside some of his more traditional work — we caught up with the famed creative to hear his thoughts on working with Michael Marriott, the power of persuasion and why he’s looking forward to exhibiting with Alex Booker. 

Hi Anthony, we are so unbelievably excited to see you exhibiting as part of Design Undefined. What attracted you to the show?

I was keen to work on a new project with Michael Marriott, we’ve worked together in the past and it’s always been a great experience. So when Design Undefined came along it was the perfect moment! I’m looking forward to seeing all our plans come together in the space.

Why is breaking convention important to creatives like yourself and as an industry? Does it play a role in the sustainability of the industry?

As designers we have a responsibility to constantly challenge both ourselves and the design industry, it’s the only way we can all move forward positively. Everything around us is changing rapidly, we have to respond to these changes with our work to be part of the on-going conversation. 

Clerkenwell is an area steeped in history that is integral to London’s identity and the creative community. What does the area represent to you as a creative?

I first discovered the delights of Clerkenwell while I was studying at the RCA, lots of friends had studios and workshops around there. Friday nights at the Three Kings was always fun, it was like an extension of the college bar. I’ve always enjoyed the social side of the design world, meeting friends and chatting about who was doing what, with who and where! I met lots of people who I eventually ended up working with on projects, there’s a lot of cross over between friends that I made around that time. Like the rest of London, Clerkenwell has moved on and changed over the years, but I think it’s still held on to it’s creative spirit.

Michael Marriott and Anthony Burrill. Photography by Dunja Opalko
Some of your most recognised work focuses on bold statements and questions. How important is that voice to you? Is provocation a part of your personality or a tool you use as an artist?

My work has become more focused on words and typography over the past few years, I was originally from an illustration background and had a fear of typography. As I developed my own approach to working with type I began to understand how to use it successfully, using letterpress has given me a real insight in to the craft of typography, it’s something that I think is missing in digital work. I like the physicality of wood and metal type, they have a warmth and character that is impossible to create digitally.

What can we expect to see from you at Clerkenwell London?

I’m collaborating with my friend Michael Marriott on a “room within a room” installation, we will create an environment that will host a variety of creative activities. For example a screen-printing workshop, postcard making using rubber stamps and a chance to browse through copies of my new book MAKE IT NOW! Michael and I have created a series of furniture pieces, a table, bench, bookshelf and stools that will occupy the room. The furniture is made using screen-printed plywood, the typographic pattern applied to the wood is taken from my book, it shows my favourite letterforms from my wood block prints.

Has your work for Design Undefined been influenced by the space?

The mixed use nature of the venue creates an interesting dynamic, there’s a lot to take in! Our aim is to make a room that feels both lively and exciting, but calm and reflective at the same time. It’s the same feeling you get in my studio, there’s lots to look at and plenty to get excited about, but there’s also space to think and create new work. 

Ask More Questions by Anthony Burrill
You are a graphic designer and printmaker and will be exhibiting alongside Alex Booker, another printmaker. Are you looking forward to seeing his work in the same venue? Do you see any noteworthy similarities or major difference between your works that visitors to the show may pick up on?

Alex and I both share a love of print, the tactile nature of printing with wood, paper and ink. Alex creates images from his imagination and visual research, my working method draws from collage techniques, I combine letterforms and words. It will be interesting to see the contrast and parallels between our work. 

Will you be exploring the rest of Clerkenwell Design Week? Is there anything you’re specifically looking forward to seeing?

I’m always on the look out for new inspiration and ways of working, I’m fascinated by other designers' working processes and how they draw their influences together to create new projects. I love having conversations with interesting people over a few drinks, chance meetings with people who’s work you admire are always fun and inspiring. I keep an eye out for the unexpected and look forward to being surprised and inspired!

On Wednesday 24 May, 2pm– 5pm, Anthony Burrill will host an open screen-printing workshop, revealing the process behind his now-iconic artwork.

Make it Now! by Anthony Burrill. Photography by Dunja Opalko
A look inside Make it Now! by Anthony Burrill. Photography by Dunja Opalko
Screen printed stools by Anthony Burrill and Michael Marriott. Photography by Dunja Opalko

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