Get to know ... Miggs Burroughs
Published 12:00 am, Friday, July 29, 2016
WESTPORT—Graphic artist Miggs Burroughs grew up surrounded by what he calls the “second wave” of artists to flock to Westport. Around the age of four, he moved to the town, where his father was part of a community of commercial illustrators that expanded in the 1950s. He met artists at home, at arts events and at the arts store downtown with his father.
Burroughs did not intend to follow his father’s path. But after graduating from Carnegie Tech - now Carnegie Mellon University - with a theater degree, he found himself doing production for a town newspaper. Arranging designs on pages for print, he first saw the appeal of graphic art.
Burroughs has since designed the town flag, public schools’ logo, Levitt Pavilion logo and Tunnel Vision, among other projects, in Westport. The local works are among a spread of other creations including a U.S. postage stamp, TIME Magazine covers, public access TV show “Miggs B on TV” and a book of questions titled “What If?”
The 2012 book opens by asking, “What if the most important moment in your life is this one? Can you handle the power it gives you to choose how you will spend the next one?”
Burroughs is also on the Westport Arts Advisory and Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts Committees, a founding member of the Westport Artists’ Collective and recently took on the role of Artist in Residence at the Westport Library.
A lifelong Westport resident, Burroughs talked about his work as a graphic artist and the arts in Westport during a recent interview.
Q: What projects that you’ve done are you the proudest of?
A: The two that I can say I’m really proud of are, first, I was asked to do the Westport town flag in 1985. They were celebrating our sesquicentennial which is the 150th birthday because Westport was founded - or chartered - in 1835 so in 1985 they were celebrating that. Westport had never had a flag. I don’t think anyone was concerned that they hadn’t had a flag all those years but Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian, had just moved into town and somehow contacted the town government and his people said Rodney would like to do something nice for the town just to establish his goodwill. So the committee came up with something he could do and pay for so they came up with flag. […] It was a great honor. I guess it doesn’t get better than that for somewhere you live. And the other thing - which I won’t say one’s more important than the other - is this Tunnel Vision. […] I was asked to do that two years ago and for an artist that’s like having your own gallery 24/7. It’s never closed and it’s always there and it’s supposed to be a permanent installation. And it’s been two years so, so far so good. And I got total creative freedom so that was just a dream. After that I was actually like numb with, ‘What do I do now?’ It was such a great thing. I can’t whine and complain like I never get to do what I want or clients always control everything. It was a dream.
Q: You’ve done a number of designs around town. What do you like about working in Westport?
A: Probably a lot of it has to do with the legacy of my father and being part of that. A lot of people say we’re not an artistic community anymore. I think there’s probably more artists than there ever were here. Being part of a community of artists and in my case being part of this second generation of artists, and Westport’s just been very supportive. I think one of the most gratifying things for me has been there are friends of my father - my father died 20 years ago - but some of his friends are still alive - some have passed recently - so there’s a few in their 90s that have become my friends. They were my fathers’ friends and now they’re my friends and it’s just so weird because I grew up as a kid like these are kind of the art superheroes of their day and still are so that part is just really great. And I’m not a fine artist and I’m not on their level - I’m not an illustrator - so it’s not like we’re peers. But it’s nice. […] And Westport in general is just very supportive and it’s a little fishbowl. I’m not in New York and I don’t know if I’d ever survive in New York if I was doing that kind of thing. So you get kind of immediate gratification when you do something and it’s in the newspaper the next day as an ad or on a website or something and I see trucks go by with my logos on them.
Q: How would you describe your style as an artist?
A: I’m all about subtractive design, to say something in the simplest way possible and to keep subtracting elements until it still communicates without too much superfluous decorative stuff. I guess just simplicity, to communicate as simply and directly as possible, distill it down to the essence of the message whatever that is. I think every designer wants to do that. I’m not a decorative artist so my shortcomings might be some logos or some designs might require something decorative or frilly and that could be the right choice sometimes. But my strong point is simplicity. I think I told someone once as a designer I’m a product of my shortcomings because I’m not a decorative artist so I end up having to do the simplest thing possible.
Q: What do you think Westport’s identity in terms of the arts is now compared to what it’s been in the past?
A: My father, his day was more commercial illustrators and literally they were household names, the key artists. And Westport went through a phase where a lot of financial people came in and the town Main Street changed - no more mom and pop stores - and that influx of money has been good for the town. And artistically, some people say, ‘Oh it’s too bad Westport is not an arts community.’ I guess because artists aren’t in the news like they used to be. There used to be an artists-photographers softball game. And there used to be artists’ events that the illustrators gave. They were kind of a wild group. People just knew them as Westport’s eccentric, fun, creative side. But now I think there’s more artists than ever. What’s its personality or its identity? I think the [Westport] Arts Center is the primary identity. The arts center has definitely put a really positive imprint on the town and on other artists - to give them a voice, wall space, an identity, a place they feel at home.