How to Say the Most With the Least

Anthony Burrill and students tackle language barriers in graphic design at São Paulo's Mesa & Cadeira


Earlier this year, Sao Paulo-based workshop group Mesa & Cadeira invited renowned British graphic designer Anthony Burrill—known for his print works featuring simple but bold sayings—to the megapolis to lead a weeklong session with 12 (mostly Brazilian) students. The results of this north-meets-south salon are now set to run in a three-week exhibit called “Anthony Burrill & Mesa & Cadeira: How to Say the Most With the Least” starting today at London’s Kemistry Gallery. The pieces are especially interesting because they provide a look into how words can be played with in a foreign language—in this case, Portuguese—but yet still get across the same clever meaning in a more common one.

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“The language barrier was quite tricky,” Burrill comments. “My work is about playful twists of language, something that depends on context and cultural cues to give meaning. I think we managed to make work that communicated in both languages.” During the workshop, rather than take on the traditional role of teacher, with lesson plans and a strict schedule, Burrill instead let the session evolve organically. “I liked to explore alongside the students, so we both made discoveries. Everybody is an individual with unique life experiences and approaches,” says Burrill.

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The dozen posters in the show, in A2 size and mounted on wood panels created from reclaimed wood similar to the kind that Burrill noticed on various construction sites around Sao Paulo, were unexpectedly created in black and white. “Most people associate bright colors with Brazil. I wanted to challenge this. São Paulo is actually quite a gray place, the concrete of the buildings is sun bleached, in a beautiful way. Also, the main focus of the exhibition is the words, that’s why I’ve used one typeface throughout,” he notes.


Brazilian-born journalist Barbara Soalheiro, who founded Mesa & Cadeira with Francesca Wade from London, pointed out that the workshop with Burrill exemplifies its unique approach. “You don’t just sit and listen to someone you admire speaking about hypothetical situations. You actually work with that person: see how he or she makes decisions, watch where he or she invests more or less energy, witness how he or she solves unexpected problems when they appear.” she explains.

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In addition to the show, on 12 July 2012 Burrill, Soalheiro and Wade will lead a discussion that gives a behind-the-scenes look into the workshop. The next installation of Mesa & Cadeira, whose date is still not set, will be led by Casey Caplowe, creative director and founder of Good, along with one of the organization’s creative technologists.