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Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Graphic Artist Anthony Burrill

In this blog series we're putting the spotlight on some of our favourite creatives. This time we speak with graphic artist, Anthony Burrill.

Anthony Burrill is widely known for his graphic prints and simple yet eye-catching designs. His most notable artworks include an 88ft mural in Leeds, “You & Me, Me & You”, and his inspiring “Work Hard & Be Nice to People” poster which adorns the walls of studios around the world. We caught up with Anthony to discuss his up-beat style of communication, upbringing and advice for upcoming and aspiring artists.

Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Graphic Artist Anthony Burrill

What first inspired you to get into art and design?

For as long as I can remember, since I was a kid, I’ve always liked to draw things. Later on, I started drawing, copying logos, creating brand boards and stuff like that.

At school, I wasn’t really into football or the sporty gang, so I just spent a lot of time in the art room.

I had really good art teachers that encouraged me and I just liked the vibe and felt calm – like a safe haven.

Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Graphic Artist Anthony Burrill

Growing up on the outskirts of Manchester, how has your Northern England roots influenced your artwork?

My parents were both creative thinkers looking back, but they both had regular jobs and they designed and built the house we lived in. It was like a version of West Coast bungalow house through the filter of 1970’s northern England. They encouraged me to follow my dream, really.

That kind of northern sense of humour, a bit of poetry in the North; Alan Bennett, and Morrissey (early on). I was keen on David Hockney, and I just liked looking at photographs of him in Los Angeles. His life looked really exciting and appealing, so the fact he came from Bradford was something I could kind of relate to.

You’re known for combining the more traditional aspects of art and design – letterpress, typography and screen-printing, with more digital methods, have you always had an interest in producing that type of mixed-media artwork?

I went to art school pretty much pre-computers. The first Apple Mac’s were being released but they were pretty difficult to use and pretty boring. I was more interested in experimenting and using things like a photocopier to get instant results.

I had a sort of analogue education, and then, later on, moved to digital. I kept that analogue feel but worked on the computer every day. It’s a big part of my practice, but it’s just sort of about combining those things.

Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Graphic Artist Anthony Burrill

You studied at Leeds Polytechnic in the 1980s, how did you find that art school education, and what first attracted you to letterpress typography?

Letterpress was the first bit of work experience that my dad had arranged with a friend from his company. They were letterpress printing beer mats to colour beer mats. I was absolutely fascinated by seeing the first colour go down and then printing the second colour.

I was fascinated by the whole process and production. The letterpress is the most direct form of production – it’s just got a kind of warm human character to it.

When I was at Leeds, the course was wide open, and you could tailor it to the things you were interested in. I gave everything a go; it was almost like an extended foundation course.

I was doing sculpture, filmmaking, music, printmaking, animation, photography, and of painting. I tried everything out.

With the current situation in the UK, what advice would you give for aspiring creatives, and those who are graduating this year?

When I was studying, we were in the middle of a recession and times were tough. But I think if you’ve got it in you and you really want to do it then you’ll find a way of doing it, no matter what.

I think having that struggle forces you to be creative and really be proactive. The situation is always changing and it’s always challenging for lots of different people in different ways.

It’s just a matter of persistence and sticking it out and finding ways to do it and connecting with people who are in a similar situation.

Create your own scene with your friends. It’s tough but it’s always been tough for creative people. We’re always underappreciated and underfunded, but we always find ways to fight through that.

Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Graphic Artist Anthony Burrill

After you graduated, you created animations and graphics for MTV, as well as working with bands and musicians including Kraftwerk, how was this time for you in your career, and how have things changed for the role of designers and creatives within the music industry?

Yeah, we made the first ever website for them, I was a massive Kraftwerk fan. I was with my brother-in-law, Kip, and we were just playing around on the internet. We started making websites and then Kraftwerk got in touch and asked us to do a website for them. It was crazy!

I dabbled a bit in the music industry and the romanticism of creating record sleeves and speaking to musicians about their music. I’ve done projects with bands, but when you’re working with creatives that work in a different field to you, you can have some overlap in the middle and that’s really interesting. I think if you respond to something emotionally and feel a connection you can create something interesting.

With such a vast portfolio, is there a particular project that really stands out for you and is your proudest piece?

I think the pinnacle of everything that I’ve done is the mural in Leeds (“You & Me, Me & You”). It’s like everything came together perfectly for that project. The timing, the connection with me being a student in Leeds – it’s like everything seemed right about it. The way it was received and the way it’s been taken up by people, it’s been incredible. It’s definitely one of the top projects.

It just seems to have a nice flow about it, it developed really nicely and hopefully, it will be there for a long time. I was conscious when we were working on it that it was going to be there for a long time. I wanted a message that was not too specific or at any one point in time. Always in my work I’m thinking of something that will have longevity and make something that will still make sense in 10 or 20 years.

Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Graphic Artist Anthony Burrill

You’re perhaps most known for your “Work Hard and Be Nice to People” print, a print which has become something of an icon for the design community, adorning many a wall in design studios. When you first produced this artwork, could you ever foresee it becoming quite so recognisable?

I just printed it for myself, and I made it when my family and I moved from London to Rye. I found this local letterpress printer and it felt like destiny. It was like I had been delivered to this place to make this work.

When I made it, I didn’t think I’d still be talking about it 20 years later. But it’s a simple message and something that a lot of people connect with. The reaction has been incredible.

We featured your Love Hope & Joy artwork on our Fresh Picks blog a couple of years back. This was commissioned by Covent Garden at the height of the global pandemic in a bid to welcome back visitors to the city whilst thanking the NHS, how did you find that time, and how did that project come about?

It was one of those things – A friend of mine is a Creative Producer, and one of her clients was the company that owns and runs Covent Garden. There was a building and normally you’d see scaffolding, but there was an opportunity to do a large artwork in the middle of Covent Garden.

Things were beginning to open up tentatively, so they needed a piece of work that would act as a sign that things were getting better. Luckily, it was just one of those things that was lucky that it was at the right time and in the right place.

A lot of the time, work depends on the content, where people see it, how people see it, how it’s recorded and how well it gets shared through social media.

Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Graphic Artist Anthony Burrill

Throughout your career, you have worked with various artists and creatives, how important is collaboration within your artwork?

I think it’s a matter of connecting with like-minded people and wanting to make something that’s bold. It’s about taking creative chances and it comes through like a human connection.

It’s like chatting to somebody and they get it and are on the same page. You have a connected energy that helps push a project along and get it finished.

I think I’m good at collaborating with people and allowing space for people to have their input and connect with the way that I work as well.

It’s always great when you work with somebody that pushes you as much as you push them creatively. But then, I also like working completely on my own as well as working collaboratively. I think it’s good to have a mix of both things.

All creatives have different approaches to receiving a brief, what is your usual design process for a project?

I suppose it depends on what it is really. It usually involves leaving enough time for creative thinking and then practical thinking about how we’re going to do things.

For example, visits to the exhibition space, creating a structure to hang prints on and so on. Each project is different though in terms of preparation and some need more time than others for project management.

Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Graphic Artist Anthony Burrill

What are you currently working on, any projects in the pipeline?

I’ve got an exhibition coming up in October in Jealous Gallery. I started planning for it at the beginning of the year as you need enough time to formulate things and get stuff organised in your head.

This series is all about putting the spotlight on creatives, are there any creatives who you have recently come across that you would recommend?

I met Ollie at Glastonbury, he’s a friend of my son. I love his approach to making bold graphic prints. His no holds barred approach to image making is exciting and full of creative energy. Check out his work. 

Ines Fernandez de Cordova is an artist and print maker, I met her at jealous Gallery in London. I love her work which combines three dimensional objects, photography and print-making. See her work for yourself.

Weird Walk is a way of life, it’s a beautifully produced publication that uncovers mythical stories where the everyday brushes against the ancient. I love their approach to storytelling and myth making. Take a look at their work.

I came across Thibault’s work through the mysterious instagram algorithm, I love the strange eeriness of the imagery and found materials. The gallery installations look amazing too! See it for yourself.

Cheers Anthony,

We’ve really enjoyed hearing what inspires you, about your background and collaborations.

If you’d like to see more of Anthony’s work, you can give him a follow and check out his site.

Stay tuned for more creative spotlights, we’ll be back with another instalment soon! In the meantime, you can see what we’re up to on Twitter and Instagram.