The infamous graphic artist, designer and printmaker Anthony Burrill has recently launched his new online ‘Archive of Collected Ephemera & Printed Material’ and we couldn’t help but wonder what went into the making of his online database; a priceless and striking collection chronicling the styles in graphic design and typography over the past twenty years.
A collaboration between Anthony Burrill, graphic designer Jon Bland and developer Neal Fletcher. His online archive serves well as a constant source of inspiration for anyone who’s looking to explore the seemingly endless possibilities of print. It’s clear that throughout his long and stirring career, Anthony Burrill has always been collecting tickets, scraps of type, newspaper clippings and found printed material. Now read on to delve deeper into his curatorial methodology for the website and find out about his plans for the future of his ‘Archive of Collected Ephemera & Printed Material’.
Having built your collection for over 20 years, why do you think ‘now’ seems like the perfect time to launch ‘The Archive of Collected Ephemera & Printed Material?’
I’m frequently asked about my sources of inspiration, now I can direct people to this site. Here is the stuff I’ve collected and drawn inspiration from since I was a student way back in the nineties. I’ve always been fascinated by graphic design from the margins, work made by unknown designers that is often overlooked because of its everyday nature.
What is the curatorial methodology for the project? How did you select the first 400 images to go live?
I looked through my old sketchbooks and boxes of printed ephemera and handpicked the most interesting stuff. After I’d scanned a few hundred pieces I began to group things together and categorise things, I then filled in the gaps that were left, seeking out pieces I knew I had that would sit well with the selections I’d already made. It’s the tip of the iceberg. I’ve still got lots to go through and unearth. I wanted the site to feel coherent, that’s why the majority of images are black and white. My aim was to make a usable archive, looking at interesting examples of design that would spark off ideas.
Can you pick a few of your favourite items from the archive and tell us about them? Are there any particular pieces that are highlights and/or inspired you to begin the project in the first place?
I’m particularly interested in stencils and stencil fonts. I like the industrial ‘non-designed’ feel of them. I’ve got lots of examples of different fonts in metal and plastic, it’s great to see them all together and compare the different forms. I developed a complete font in collaboration with Colophon Foundry based on a set of stencils I found in Lisbon. The geometric grid of the font is unusual and quite lovely. I’m keen to show my working process and how I use source material to develop work. The site is intended to inspire designers to look for inspiration in unusual places.
Please explain to us a little bit about your collaboration with Jon Bland and Neal Fletcher. What was the biggest challenge in creating this site? Have you three worked collaboratively on anything before?
This is the first time the three of us have worked together. I’ve known Jon for a couple of years and we’ve collaborated on a couple of projects in the past. It was while Jon was over at my studio that we started talking about the archive project. Initially I thought it could be a printed publication, but we soon realised that the nature of the archive meant it would be best seen online, it would be more flexible, easy to update and easily accessible to everyone. Jon suggested we work with Neal to develop the site and thankfully he was enthusiastic about the project. It took us a couple of months to get most of the work done. There was a lot of scanning, while I was working on that Jon and Neal developed the site.
During the two decades of collecting tickets, scraps of type, newspaper clippings, odd packaging etc, was there any item that went missing and you think was valuable?
I’m the opposite of a hoarder, I don’t like accumulating unnecessary stuff. The good thing about the material for the archive that I’ve collected is it’s quite small and mostly paper thin so doesn’t take up too much storage space. Most of it has been kept in sketchbooks, I used to glue everything in to my sketchbooks, making compositions and spreads with found material. I’ve always used collage as a technique to produce work, collating and assembling found images and textures. The archive is an extension of this approach, it’s a huge ever growing collage of everything.
I don’t think I’ve lost anything valuable, most of the archive is made up of the everyday ephemera that’s intended to be discarded. By saving it, keeping it for years and then finally displaying it like this I’m giving it a value and significance it was never intended to have. The value we see in things is how much we invest in them, personally I think these scraps of paper are priceless!
How important do you think it is for art and design to be or feel tangible in this increasingly digitised world?
We all live and work in an increasingly digital environment. I value print and it’s many forms, it can’t be replaced. My design practice is concerned with print technique, it’s an integral part of the work I make. The archive enforces the connection I have with tangible examples of print. They are organic and have a quality that can’t be replicated digitally. They have a human connection.
What would be your sage advice to artists/designers/creatives who at times have to deal with creative or mental blocks?
Take a break and do something different, go for a walk or a bike ride, visit a gallery or go somewhere beautiful. Feed your imagination and give your brain some new information to digest and engage with. Try leaving technology behind for a while and get back to simply enjoying things. Your feelings of creativity will slowly come back and you’ll find yourself coming up with interesting solutions to your creative problems.
What are your plans for the future of ‘The Archive of Collected Ephemera & Printed Material’ that we can look forward to?
I’m planning to add more material over the coming months, I have lots more sketchbooks and storage boxes to raid. It’s been inspiring to go through my old collections and I’m excited to share what I’ve found.
Thank you very much, Anthony!