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Arnolfini - est 1961

Nick Billington has been installing graphic work at Arnolfini for 35 years. It’s great to hear his thoughts on his time here and the various changes he’s witnessed in that time.

Like Arnolfini itself, I was born in 1961 and for well over half of those 62 years have been Arnolfini’s signs and graphics man. Since 1988 in fact, which is before the fall of the Berlin Wall and before Blur and Oasis had even formed!

In those early days it was usually just a matter of putting the artist’s name, show title and dates on the wall next to the red carpeted stairs – yes, this was in the old building – actually the same building but a completely different layout before its radical £7m transformation in 2000.

a colour photograph of Nick Billington installing vinyls for an exhibition at Arnolfini.
Nick Billington installing vinyls for Elias Sime Eregata October 2023

The same technique for applying vinyl lettering to the wall was used then as now: Think cut out sticky-backed plastic letters applied all together to the wall using masking tape. These days however there is a lot more lettering and graphics for each show. As I said, the method may be virtually unchanged but for the current, fairly typical show (Elias Sime) there is a whole title wall with acknowledgements and sponsors’ logos as well as the original information, an intro section, a ‘how to explore’ section, quotes spread throughout the building and various other text sections that help the visitor understand and learn about the artist and their work. There are also a number of digitally-printed posters both inside and outside the building that promote the current (or possibly upcoming) show.

a colour photograph a blue coloured wall over which are laid white vinyl lettering installed by Nick Billington for an exhibition at Arnolfini.
Nick Billington’s installation of vinyls for Elias Sime Eregata, October 2023

As a graphic design graduate myself, who once nearly switched courses to photography, I lean towards the graphic and/or photo-heavy shows – like Mark Titchner or the recent Stephen Gill show that had a whole section of bird self portraits on a wooden post in Sweden which had a camera with motion sensor attached. Another favourite, that also featured the ‘great outdoors’, was Richard Long (and not just because I produced his text sections!). He had his own show in 2015 but I remember a few of his pieces in a multi-artist show from decades ago that made an impression on me at the time. Having studied A-level and Foundation Art in Bristol I was an occasional visitor to Arnolfini and my favourite piece from way back then was a wooden sculpture called ‘Shift’ that featured a distorted chair, but sadly I can’t remember the name of the artist.

These days I check future Arnolfini installation dates before booking my holidays! As working for Arnolfini has also led to me doing the same for Spike Island and the RWA (as well as the Architecture Centre – now Design West – virtually next door and Edge Gallery, Bath) this can occasionally be problematic – but it’s a nice problem to have.

I have no intention of retiring any time soon and hope to provide Arnolfini with their text and graphics for many years to come. I’m not entirely sure if I ever met Arnolfini’s founder Jeremy Rees but I think his motto for Arnolfini visitors is a good one for life itself – ‘Enjoy yourself!’

a colour photggraph of the words 'Enjoy Yourself' Jeremy Reeds, Arnolfini Founder by the door in the foyer space at Arnolfini
Lisa Whiting Photography for Arnolfini