On a recent trip Down Under, I had the pleasure of seeing many pieces by Australia's own, Anthony Lister, on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as in his home town of Brisbane. I would like to say that it became commonplace after a while, fading into the background of my daily art hunt; but truth is, I was just as excited each and every time, whether it was a large mural, a rollgate, or even a tag or a sticker. Each piece I saw left me wanting for more. There is something about his style that has always captivated me, and with each ballerina, cockatoo or demonic face, I became more intrigued by the artist behind the brush.
Anthony Lister in his studio (photo provided by Lister)
When it was time to leave, I felt a bit of a loss for any of the work I may have missed seeing of his on the streets of Oz. The FOMO was real, even though I felt like I was fortunate to have seen so much of his work during my short, two-week trip.
Oddly enough, when I returned home, one of the first pieces I saw on the streets of New York City was one of his, in Manhattan's Chinatown; something of a "forced collab", where he had painted a face on another artist's floral wall, magically transforming the flowers into the fabric of a makeshift ski mask of sorts.
After weeks of stalking the streets in search of "Listers" on the other side of the globe, I was pleased to discover there were yet more to be unearthed on my home turf.
In light of this, I saw it as something of a sign and needed to learn more about him and his vision. Thankfully, he was open to a conversation.
I have to admit, I was both nervous and excited at the same time. I worried that he might find my questions to be beneath him, as I have seen a few interviews where he has been dismissive, but my hope was at the end of it all, I got to know a bit more about this artist whose work I have come to admire over the years.
Well, my worst fears became reality on several accounts, but as hoped, I gleaned a bit more about him than when I went into it, so I'm sharing that with you now:
John Domine: Where do you currently call home? Or are you more of an artistic nomad?
Anthony Lister: Is this a multiple choice question? Because I would chose C. There’s a third option right?
JD: What place on Earth revives and stimulates your artistic juices?
AL: Usually before intercourse. Less so directly after the fact.
JD: Ballerinas are often the subject matter of your walls. What's the obsession? You have said "The only difference between a stripper and a ballerina is that a stripper doesn't take her clothes off". Elaborate on this.
AL: Well, for starters, you got that one wrong dude. I said, “The only difference between a Ballerina and a stripper is that Ballerinas don't take their clothes off”. (He is right about that. Totally misquoted.)
Now that we got that straight, well its quiet self-explanatory, isn't it?
Outside of the literal, I am referring to the situation which exists between high brow and low brow culture. It exists sometimes between the rich and the poor. I am interested in the extreme polarities which entertain excess to vulgar proportions. Plus I like drawing girls, whether they are nude or otherwise.
JD: Do you ever listen to music when you paint? If so, what genre? What's playing on your lineup right now?
AL: Right now I have paused a documentary about John Lennon to do this interview, so firstly I’d like to say fuck you very much. I listen to classical music mostly and some hard core gangsta Hip-Hop, none of that soft shit, y'know what I mean?
Oh, by the way, sorry for saying fuck off to you just now, but I'm painting and it's hot here in Berlin.
JD: Aside from painting, what are some other passions you have?
AL: Did you just actually just ask me that question? Like don't get me confused for some hobbyist/ go for a ride a bike in a park then tell you about it motherfucker. This shit is my shit and I take it very seriously. I am not going to play what's your favorite color bullshit with you man, like my mum has a website, you can look it up. I don't have time for this, get to the real shit dude.
(Note to self: Don't ask Lister any mundane questions, even if you are curious what he likes to do when he isn't painting. Apparently, he doesn't go for that crap.)
JD: I am struck by your statement "Creativity is the only weapon in the war on reality." I agree with the innate power of creativity, but explain this 'war on reality'. What is it about reality that we are fighting? And how do we win?
AL: Well man, if you don't know what you're fighting for, why would you consider winning to be the end goal? When we think of war must there always be a winner and a loser? What I refer to in that statement is in regards to society's (mainly western society's) ignorance when it comes to embracing the arts. It has always baffled me to grasp why it appears that so many are intimidated by fine art and creative thinkers. Having said that, some of the most creative people I have met were incarcerated when I met them. I guess that says a lot about how ‘society’ treats creatives.
JD: Further, you say "The only difference between a painter and a magician is that a painter doesn't do tricks". But don't you? A certain brush stroke here, a splash of paint there, and you have created a ballerina on an otherwise stark wall, or a demon's face in an alley. Wouldn't you agree? Isn't it a bit of an illusion as well, and sometimes just as ephemeral.
AL: Very good, actually the reason I made that statement was for this very question, so thank you. Firstly, I don't do tricks, I am an adventure painter and have demonstrated that I own both chance and accident. Secondly, an illusion is not a trick. To suggest that I pull ‘tricks’ is straight up offensive. I find it offensive. I’ll tell you why: in the context of the literal word ‘trick’ it would appear as though in some way or form I am attempting to and/or successfully luring my audience into a false incarnation of the actual fact, which is the factual opposite of what the word trick would suggest and what I am doing. The intentions of why and how I assert my performance as a painter is constantly at the fore front of my mind and which my practice is anchored upon. What I do is not dissimilar to say an alchemist or even a doctor for that matter, which is… perform Magik good sir. Real Magik is not something that I care to denounce or pervert with silly names for people to understand like tricks, nor is it done to win money or with playing cards. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.
JD: I had the pleasure of watching you paint in New York City recently on Elizabeth Street for the LISA Project. You killed it on that wall, which is still riding, by the way. How is it for you to come back to New York City and paint here? You also left us some other works during that visit, largely unauthorized. Which give you more pleasure, the unauthorized or the commissioned pieces?
AL: Yeah, I love New York, we all know that, to be honest that shits getting a bit soft. I've gotta move around, I'll be back soon chill. I’m really interested in making beautiful things I just like to make that clear. Yes it can be complicated at times, I just want it to be clear and stated that: my creative intention is always positive and with harm to none.
JD: You talk about your need to "suffocate the boredom" with your painting. Is that the only reason you paint, as a distraction from reality, or is there more to it?
AL: Yes, there is much more to it but what are you really asking?
(Well, what I really was asking is Why? Why do you paint? Why do you paint what you paint? What is it about it all that suffocates the boredom for you? But I was afraid that may be too mundane and I could probably find it on your Mum's blog. I will check there.)
JD: I found it interesting when you said " You can have sex with a sculpture. You can't have sex with a painting." If you could have sex with any sculpture in the world, which would it be? (Forgive me if I have taken liberties here.)
AL: That's vulgar and Im not going to entertain this question…having said that, good question, I will have to get back to you on that one.
JD: With regard to painting in the studio or painting on the streets, which gives you more pleasure? You have said that "the street is a brutal, unappreciated kind of thing". Elaborate on that.
AL: Well, it can be, sure. I guess, I'm more at home in the studio. And sure, the streets can be brutal, they can be un-appreciating, they can be very unappreciated and that's what I find beautiful within the evolution of the public realm. To be forced to chose which ocean to swim in for the rest of your life or which child would survive in a situation where you had the power to only chose one to survive… I challenge you to casually throw an answer into the pond of forever to be re-quoted and questioned about.
JD: In Brisbane, I saw your long wall on Milton (seen below) which is now shared by the work of Sofles. In the original painting, you had a portrait of a graffiti clean-up crew member alongside the piece, which has since been buffed. Is your work often censored in this way by the Council when they find the subject 'unappealing'?
That was an interesting case for many reasons. To answer your question: yes.
JD: You have said there is "too much cleaning, not enough making". If you ruled the world, how would things differ?
AL: In reference to my statement? Like, do you think if I ruled the world I would change my point of view about too many people cleaning and not enough people making? Like do you think public intervention and creative expression is activated purely by powerless civilians? I would like to think not.
JD: Is there any particular piece you have painted, either on the streets or in the studio, for which you are particularly proud of creating? On the flip side, is there any piece you regret painting?
AL: I don't know about all that. All I know is that it is important of me to move forward and make better work than what I’ve made previously. It's as simple as that. At the risk of sounding like a dick head, I love all my work in the moment of saying it's finished. That's just that, its the only way I can do what I do, now I’m starting to think about it too much, now this shit's starting to fuck me up so let's not.
JD: What's next for Anthony Lister? What do you have coming up? And how can our readers find and purchase your work?
AL: I'm in Berlin now for a show which open[ed] at URBAN SPREE on September 14th. I have a DANGER ZONE where you can purchase bottles of my spit/DNA, drawings made in blood, assault riffles, fake passports and counterfeit money - WWW.LISTERDANGERZONE.COM . My name is actually a website that looks like this - WWW.ANTHONYLISTER.COM . Heading to Paris next week to work with PRINT THEM ALL on a new lithograph. There's a movie out that Eddie Martin just made called HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS? I think it's on Amazon or Netflix or some shit by now.
So as usual I'm too busy holding on to be hunger over and it looks like Tokyo could be next.
Well, Lister, as it so happens, I seem to be following you yet again, as I am headed to Berlin myself in a few days. I'll have to check out your show. And if you are still in town, maybe we can grab a beer to suffocate the boredom together.