Anthony Burrill’s archive site shares his collection of raw, fascinating and unexpected ephemera
Bold lettering, gritty textures and a punchy black, white and yellow palette – we must be talking about a website by Anthony Burrill. Featuring 500 pieces of the graphic artist’s inspirational ephemera, he opted to start his archive as an online and open resource, sharing the material that has caught his eye over multiple decades. In our interview, we discussed the website’s development as well as his present and future goals for the project.
PT You mentioned that you resumed the archive project during lockdown, a time that for many, was introspective. Did exploring your collection evoke the same feeling for you?
AB Yes it did. It gave me an opportunity to look back at work I’ve made and figure out what it all meant. It was an enforced time of reflection that I’m still processing. The momentum of work that I’d been happily working on for many years suddenly became disrupted. Looking back and unearthing the material that initially inspired me helped me to reconnect with my creativity.
PT Why did you opt to make a digital archive over a printed publication, as you’ve done previously with your own work?
AB My book ‘Look & See’ which was published in 2019 draws on the same source material as the new website and shares a similar impulse to explore. I decided to make the archive available digitally to make it more accessible for everyone.
I want it to be a rich visual experience.
PT By sharing your archive online as a website, people are able to access it for free. What do you think is the benefit of doing so?
AB I hope people see it as an interesting resource that provides a different set of visual references. So by looking at it, you aren’t looking at polished work by other designers, you are seeing the DNA of raw visual communication. I want it to be a rich visual experience that bombards you with unexpected imagery. The site is lively and ever-changing, throwing up new combinations and juxtapositions every time you look at it. I want it to feel fluid and open-ended.
PT What was the process like between developer Neal Fletcher, designer Richard Nicholls and yourself?
AB We spent time chatting about what I wanted from the site and how best to make it into a usable resource. I gave them a few initial steers on the look and feel, but the main thinking and development was done by them. Once we’d agreed on the look and feel and how the site would work it was quick to get a prototype up and running. It took me a long time to get all the imagery together and upload the files, at times it felt like a never-ending task, but once everything started coming together it started to gather its own momentum.
I love the grit and life that the collection has.
PT When selecting the 500 pieces, did you use a specific criteria?
AB I looked through my old sketchbooks and collection of found material and began to see links between the things I’d held on to. There’s a definite look and feel that unites the collection. An elevation of the ordinary everyday things that pass us by. I like bold black and white imagery that has texture and a handmade look and feel.
PT How much of your collection made it onto the website?
AB The website selection is all the best stuff from my collection. They are the things that I feel reflect my graphic eye and approach to making work. I seek out inspiration in unlikely and overlooked places. Drawing influence from work made by unknown designers of every type. I love the grit and life that the collection has. It’s been marked by time and lives with the patina of age.
I prefer it when there’s a lack of information.
PT The site intentionally avoids captions and organisational hierarchy, what was the thinking behind that?
AB I felt that to make it too information heavy would somehow take away from the mystery of the collection. I prefer it when there’s a lack of information and you have to make up the story yourself. It’s interesting when there is space for your imagination to develop ideas. To fill in the gaps of knowledge with your own ideas and insights. It’s a library of signs that mark out fragments of the designed landscape. Fragments of information that are now dislocated and abstracted.
PT Do you plan on expanding the site to showcase more images in the future?
AB Yes, that’s the plan. This initial collection of 500 images feels fairly exhaustive so it’s going to force me to dig deeper and seek out more interesting and inspiring material. I still keep a sketchbook and add to that every week which provides somewhere to gather new pieces before I add them to the site.