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My Cultural Life: Anthony Burrill

The graphic artist on what he’s listening to, reading and more

Anthony Burrill
Dunja Opalko

‘Say the most by using the least’ might be the personal mantra of graphic artist and printmaker Anthony Burrill, but it’s his typographic titan ‘Work Hard & Be Nice To People’ that has become something of an anthem within the design community. Punchy and cheerful, it perfectly encapsulates the distinctive visual style and voice he’s shared with clients from the London Underground to Extinction Rebellion, and features among the V&A’s permanent collections. The year ahead looks busy for Burrill with a mural in Leeds – his largest outdoor piece to date – a second acid house record and a new book named for that signature slogan. anthonyburrill.com

My best-loved piece of music is Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald. It soundtracked my Friday nights in Manchester’s The Haçienda in the late 1980s – a place of joy, togetherness and celebration that changed my life.

A Guy Called Gerald and Graham Massey 
A Guy Called Gerald / PYMCA

The song that makes me instantly happy is The Dance by Rhythim Is Rhythim. I love the bold simplicity of the groove and the throbbing bass. I challenge you not to dance to it!

I’ve always been a frustrated musician – I wish I could play at least one musical instrument. I feel musical inside so maybe I do have some ability! The new record is a project with Erik Kessels, my long term collaborator and friend. We’ve worked with sound designer Malcolm Goldie to create an audio mix of found recordings of birds and aeroplanes. It sounds unlikely, but it really works.

One of my fondest reading memories is of my grandfather and I devouring The Guinness Book of Records together each year. We were both fascinated by the oddball achievements and weird challenges people had set themselves.

My favourite film is A Matter of Life and Death directed by Powell and Pressburger, starring David Niven. It’s a strange and affecting tale that’s visually rich and inventive, with a premise that never seems to date. If you haven’t seen it, watch it!

The gallery that has a special place in my heart is the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona. The building itself, a collaboration by artist Miró and architect Josep Lluís Sert, is bold and brutal with a simple geometry that references caves and cliffs and features raw concrete painted brilliant white.

Joan Miro Foundation museum Barcelona
imageBROKER / Alamy

The last exhibition I saw was Nam June Paikat the Tate Modern. I loved his mercurial approach, always trying to find the humanity in technology and the absurd in the everyday.

Instead of quotes, I look for unexpected poetic moments in everyday life – odd phrases that stand out to me as funny reminders that the world can be a confusing place.

I collect printed ephemera of every kind: stickers, postcards, tickets... anything I can pick up and keep in my pocket. Over recent years, I’ve gone back through these collections to look for inspiration. I also collect books –I just can’t resist. Nothing will ever come close to the feeling of a book in your hand, the sensation of turning pages and experiencing the physicality of print.

If I won the lottery, I’d have to find a sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi, a monumental piece for the garden, adding to the natural beauty of the landscape.

'Newton', Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1995
'Newton', Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1995 / Heritage

I would describe my signature visual style as simple, direct and truthful. My work is positive propaganda that promotes an open and inquisitive approach to life and work. I’m happiest when I’m working on a new piece – I love feeling the energy of new ideas.

I look at historic examples of visual communication, such as the Sufragettes, civil rights protestors and student protest in Paris. Its vital energy and need to communicate has been a huge influence on my work.

One of my goals is to spend less time in airports. I intend to journey around Europe by train and explore places closer to home, too. It’s a conscious decision to reduce my carbon footprint and something I urge everybody else to do.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2020 issue of ELLE Decoration.

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