Profile: Anthony Burrill

With high-profile ad clients and a string of exhibitions under his belt, the minimalist approach of Anthony Burrill has many fans. Anna Richardson talks to this very ‘happy conceptualist’, as he searches out new challenges

It’s been a fine 12 months for Anthony Burrill. Earlier this year, two of his exhibitions – the collaboration with product designer Michael Marriott, The Right Kind of Wrong, at the London advertising agency Mother, and Geometry in Nature, at Colette in Paris – both met with widespread applause and appreciation. Another solo show, In a New Place, at Kemistry in London’s Shoreditch, opens next month and he will be taking part in the group exhibition I Love Graphic Design, as part of the Triennale di Milano, in November. With such work running alongside his commercial and other graphic projects, Burrill is pretty much where he hoped he would be. ‘This is the year when everything started kicking in properly,’ he says. ‘I’ve been producing the level and the quality of work that I’ve always wanted to.’

Burrill, who studied graphic design at Leeds Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art in London, is well known for his simple and uncomplicated graphics. Early projects include the Hans Brinker budget hotel ad campaign. Then there was the identity for Kessels Kramer’s London base KK Outlet and work for Sony Playstation, London Underground, Nike and the recent Short Circuit festival at London’s Roundhouse.

Burrill’s work is distinctive in its minimalism and humour, which are rooted in his upbringing. ‘It’s how I grew up,’ he says. ‘My parents were very minimalist, and humour was the way we communicated then, and is the way I communicate now – it’s an extension of my personality. My intention is always to try to communicate using the simplest way, whether in form or imagery.’ Where his background sowed the seed for his artistic bent, his current life continues to colour his work. He is now based in the tranquil surrounds of the Isle of Oxney, Kent, where he moved after 15 years in London.

The landscape there offers perpetual inspiration, says Burrill, who takes walks with his adored cocker spaniel Pip. ‘London is great, but it’s good to be out of it. It is not just the physical distance but the mental distance. In the countryside, there’s so much space to think and that gets into my work,’ he says.

Burrill is reluctant to call his way of working a ‘style’. ‘It is an aesthetic or an approach, rather than a style, because when people think about a style they don’t think that it is properly considered,’ he says. Consideration is something he duly accords his work. ‘Different projects are constantly developing, and I tend to think about things for a long time,’ he adds. ‘Usually, my first idea or reaction is what I build on. It can be a phrase or an image and it develops from there.’ For example, The Right Kind of Wrong started off with the title, and sometimes there’s a particular process or technique Burrill wants to use, such as the laser-cut Perspex in some of the Colette work.

Burrill’s collaborations with Marriott, on the installation at Mother and also on the trophies for this year’s Brit Insurance Design Awards at the Design Museum (made from laser-cut MDF backed by coloured acrylic panel), demonstrate his love of mixing materials and processes, and for working with different skills and manufacturers.

‘I’ve always been interested in materials and using the wrong material to do something or using something that’s fairly cheap and readily available,’ says Burrill. ‘I am particularly interested in collaboration with people working in manufacturing. When you are collaborating you produce something that you wouldn’t have done independently.’

The collaborations and his openness to opportunities could lead Burrill anywhere. Still very much plugged into the London design scene, with the benefit of regular visits, a network of likeminded friends and electronic communication, he is keen to find new avenues. He’s currently designing a set of limited-edition Tshirts, developing a prototype clock based on a retro acrylic one he found in Las Vegas, and wants to get involved in furniture. He is also hanging a show, Let’s Get High, in ad agency TBWA’s headquarters in Los Angeles, working on a new body of work using elements from existing designs.

In all his projects, Burrill continues to keep it simple, striving to communicate a sense of enjoyment, humour and pleasure.

‘I’m a conceptualist, but a happy conceptualist,’ he adds. ‘I like design to be inclusive and affordable, because there’s so much bad design out there. Everything I do links into the philosophy of keeping things simple, direct and human.’

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