He only wears white Chelsea boots, hand-made by a cobbler in Naples, and devours books on classical antiquity, wildlife and botany. Orson Fry meets the enigmatic Antony Little, one of Swinging London’s most sought-after designers.
BY ORSON FRY | 18 OCTOBER 2023
Antony Little at home in London © Orson Fry
Antony Little is lucky to be alive. In 2019, the British artist and designer suffered a septenary of strokes and was rushed to hospital, one presumed on a one-way ticket. But Antony had other plans. “I saw what was on the other side…” he told me - when I sprung him from his hospital bed the next day, against all medical advice - “and there was nothing there. So I thought I might as well come back”.
And thank God he did. Four years later, Antony is celebrating his first ever show, an exhibition of 44 illustrations made in the sixties in the black and white, art-nouveau style of Aubrey Beardsley. They will be on display for the first time, alongside portraits of key figures from Antony's circle, including Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, and Antony's wife Jennifer, and limited edition prints signed by the artist.
The Dancer, Antony Little; 1967, Ink on Paper
Raised in a river valley in the wilds of North Wales, Antony spent his childhood climbing trees and observing and sketching the local fauna and flora. He took up drawing at a young age after struggling to express himself through writing. “I found it difficult to spell properly, and I was marked down at school because I couldn’t spell. But I was not marked up because I could draw, if you see what I mean. I realised it was my draughtsmanship that was my literacy.”
In 1959 he moved to London, enrolling at Kingston Art College to study graphic design, and soon immersing himself in the city’s art and design scene. Two of his first commissions were high profile: designing the logos and shopfronts for the iconic boutiques, ‘Biba’ and ‘Hung On You’, which would revolutionise sixties fashion. The work flowed in as Antony became one of Swinging London’s most sought-after designers.
Bring me the head of the Baptist, Antony Little; 1967, ink on paper
Eight years on, and 1967 was a busy year for Antony. He received his first book commission - the illustration of 16 pictures for a collection of short stories by the French surrealist Apollinaire - and met his dear wife, Jennifer (née Osborne), to whom he was married until her death last year. Through Jenny, Antony was introduced into the high-flying world of her brother, the gambler and conservationist John Aspinall, who hired Antony to decorate his lavish parties at the Clermont Club in Berkeley Square.
But it was Antony’s collaboration with Jennifer’s younger brother, Peter Osborne, that was to be the key creative partnership. “Illustrations were one thing”, Antony says, “but if you could come up with a strong wallpaper design that sold, you could sell rolls and rolls of it.” The result was, of course, Osborne & Little.
Despite his aversion to orthography, Antony is a voracious reader, devouring books on classical antiquity, wildlife and botany. He knows the Bible and Quran back to front — “the reason I read about the Bible is because I loathe it so much” — and there’s no subject he can’t discuss at great length.
He is also wildly chic; I myself have only ever seen Antony in one of two ‘uniforms’: his winter look, a dark polo neck and pin-stripe suit, or his summer look, a white shirt and cream suit. And he only wears white Chelsea boots, hand-made by a cobbler in Naples, of which he owns 13 identical pairs.
Although he lives in London, Antony remains inspired and grounded by the British countryside and, in 1992, purchased a property and parcel of land in the West Country. Over the last two decades, he has been slowly restoring it, ridding the land of invasive species and recreating the rural paradise of his childhood.
The house, Keeper’s Lodge, sits above a brook in a winding valley in Wiltshire. It is here that Antony retreats on the weekend, to oversee the progress of the archaeological dig down the valley (his land incorporates the site of a Roman villa), and search for Great Oolite in his new digger, in his white boots. Occasionally he’ll paint a bucolic watercolor of local wildlife.
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‘An Evening with Antony Little’ takes place on 18 October at Tristan Hoare Gallery, London.
A selection of limited-edition prints signed by the artist will be available to purchase | www.tristanhoaregallery.co.uk
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