“Perhaps some people who know that poster don’t have the full backwstory to my career,” says Anthony Burrill, when I ask him if he feels a little saddled with being famous, with the wider public, for one piece of work, created back in 2004.
Burrill is responsible for designing and letter-pressing the print which reads ‘WORK HARD & BE NICE TO EACH OTHER’, one of the most plagiarised artworks of our times. And there’s a danger, I guess, that people will associate Work Hard… with pithy sayings on cushion covers, or the recent ubiquity of the motivational poster, Keep Calm and Carry On.The ‘backstory’ is that Burrill isn’t a corny slogans man, but a well-respected artist, with a commitment to using traditional printing processes, whose messages drip with a healthy dollop of post-modern irony. He’s also an in-demand graphic artist, whose client list includes the likes of Apple, Google, Hermes and the Design Museum.
“But I still believe it’s true!” he says of the ‘Work Hard’ message. “And the print’s success has given me the independence to do whatever I want. It’s been really liberating.”I ask him about his influences, expecting, as he went to art school in the eighties, for Katherine Hamnett to figure. “Actually, I’m more indebted to John Cooper Clarke,” he tells me. “His incisive wit bowls me over. And Kraftwerk: Germans using English in a collage-y way.” He also cites suffragette slogans, and 1960s Civil Rights Movement posters. “It’s about getting the message across, with a wink of humour and a fine art element.”
Earlier this year his latest book, Look & See, was published by Thames & Hudson: it contains ‘collected ephemera and printed material’. “I’m really into bits of found poetry: instructions how to do things and signs you see on the streets. I’m much more influenced by the work of non-designers than the work of designers. Things are much more human, when they are slightly wrong.”
He is a self-admitted ‘font geek’. “I take photos of street signs on holiday while the rest of the family roll their eyes,” he says. Most of the fonts he uses in his print work are provided by a letter-press publisher in his hometown, Rye. “Adams have been going for over 150 years. They are a real institution in Rye: they’ll print everything from restaurant menus to orders of service in churches. And they have a collection of different Victorian wood type: I’ve been using them since I moved to the area in 2004.”
He’s looking forward to the talk he’s giving in December, at the Glug Christmas get-together, part of Look at This – the Phoenix Festival of Print. He loves the chance, he tells me, to deliver a vocal message. “I spend most of my time in the studio, quiet and focussed. Put a mic in my hand and I turn into someone else: an entertainer.”
Look at This, Phoenix Gallery, until December 16th. Glug event December 6th.