Anthony Lister – Breaking Art
Anthony Lister is Australia’s premier street artist and one of our most internationally recognised contemporary creatives. He began painting on the streets of Brisbane as a schoolboy before going on to exhibit around the globe. Lister is the original Adventure Painter, a gifted lateral thinker with an incredible work ethic and a passion for freedom of visual speech. We caught up with the man himself in his Sydney studio…
How are you this afternoon, Anthony? I’m very well, thank you. I’ve eaten and I am thumbs up, yay.
You grew up in Brissy? Yes.
What are your fondest memories from your childhood? Well, my fondest memories were probably riding my bike with my brothers and just generally hanging around sewers and skate boarding, and smelling new toys at the toy stores and drawing, pretty much. And Grandma’s.
A ‘normal’ sort of Aussie upbringing? Absolutely, yeah, as far as I knew. I still feel like it was.
What are your brothers doing now? They pretty much just do jobs. My brother works in the mines actually – my older brother, he’s four years older. My younger brother works at Pack & Send. Yeah, just jobs, you know?
I read in an interview with GQ that you grew up in a working class family and your parents didn’t have much interest in art; what influenced you to become one of Australia’s leading artists? Oh, that’s sweet. Okay, so when I was at my dad’s house, when he was busy on the weekend – which he regularly was – I would be at my Grandma’s, he would take me to my Grandma’s. While I was there, she had a studio and it was out the back of her house, and as soon as I would arrive I remember we’d run up to the back of the house and she’d give us a soda and an ice cream. She really knew the way to a kid’s heart. So, I’d go out the back, we’d get an ice cream and she’d talk to me about her paintings. At lunch time we would eat and she would give us paper, and that was it. I mean, that was really what she taught me, just to draw.
Do you have any of her artwork? Yeah, I do actually, yeah.
Has anyone seen it? Yes, absolutely. Actually, it’s my favourite, most treasured piece of artwork in my collection, which is vast and full of some really great characters. I could show you it. It’s actually wonderful. It’s a painting of Will Smith, and I said to Grandma when I saw it and laughed, “Grandma, do you know who that is?” and she said, “That’s a very attractive young man,” and I laughed even more. It happened to be my birthday and she gave it to me for my birthday. She was 84 when she painted it and she was born in 1919 and she just happened to pull it out of a paper.
She was bloody good? Yeah, she was. She just cut it out of a paper and she wanted to paint it. She had never sold a painting in her life and she was just awesome.
And she has passed? Yeah, she passed away. She was 91 when she passed. Born in 1919, an orphan, born on Christmas Day, 1919, left-handed. Beaten to be right-handed at school, because that was a witchcraft thing. She was never adopted out until she was 13 when she went to work for a family. She had a hard life, she had a hard life in Brisbane, yeah.
Did she get to see how big you had become with your work? Yeah, I think so, a little bit. I do have a little bit of an interview on film of her looking through a catalogue that I was in, and just the look on her face in this film when she stops and she goes, “Hold on, you sell these?”, and I said, “Yeah,” and she goes, “Ha ha ha ha, these are yours?”, and I go, “Yeah,” and then she goes, “Oh,” and she puts her glasses back on a bit and then she looks at it and she takes her glasses back off and goes, “You sell these?”, and I go, “Yes, Grandma,” and she goes “Oh ho ho ha ha ha,” like this, kind of like, “Alright.”
So she was well aware of how successful you had become… Well, no, because she follows on with, “How?”, because it was beyond her. I still don’t know but I don’t think she ever really attempted to sell her work, but she was just not in the position to ever be able to manoeuvre in that way, ever. Actually, this very book is a book that she kept asking, “Where is that book? Give it back,” this ‘how to draw’ book.
What’s it called, that book? Oh, it doesn’t even have a cover, but it says, “There’s no special way you should hold your pencil, brush, or pastel…” It’s just a drawing book, you know, step-by-step, animals and stuff.
And that was hers? Yeah, and I borrowed it from her.
And kept it… Yeah, and I meant to give it back, but it’s funny that it should just be right there. Yeah, she was great.
You’re mainly known for your street art; I noticed your work everywhere over in Bali… Oh, yeah? Right on.
I didn’t know you were an Aussie, and then my brother said, “Yeah, that guy lives in Bondi…” Yeah.
Do you mind being labelled a street artist? Oh, well, I mean, I don’t have much say in it. I suppose another way of saying it is a natural artist, or urban artist, or Australian impressionist painter. There’s so many labels – so many names – but for now that’s fine. I mean, people get around in the street and, when it comes down to it, these days we’re on our phones so much, so anything that kind of triggers in anyone’s residual memory anything to do with creativity that isn’t really overtly publicising anything to anybody outside of being free or activating public space is good, so I’d be proud to call myself a street artist if that’s what my activation is, for sure.
You’ve been compared to Banksy from the UK quite a bit; do you mind those comparisons? Oh look, I think that’s just a general kind of way for someone to describe things, like an analogy for people that don’t really know what public intervention is. It’s not actually like our work is similar. I think it’s just a way of someone comparing it, like food to an alien. “Okay, so it’s food, you know?” And aliens know what donuts are or some shit, and then they’re like, “It’s food, you know, like donuts, but this is pizza – it’s called pizza, but it’s a food of earth, like a donut.” So, pizza is like a donut and that’s how, I think in a general sense, people go, “Okay, Banksy, sure.”
They’re just thinking that it’s a guy who paints outside… Yeah, that’s right, yeah. Because they’ve probably heard of Banksy, and I think that would be really great because he’s really good.
You’ve spoken about having ‘Multiple creative personality disorder’; is that an actual thing? Can you explain what that is and how that’s helped shape your work? Okay, well I guess, just like in a psychological context, studying anthropology, sociology and just in a general human sense, I’ve come up with different conditions, like ‘quadpolar’ or ‘tripolar’. And it’s just being multidimensional and diverse. It’s also a place where I’ve developed words like ‘apocoloptomistical’. “What else have I come up with, Anthony?” “Oh, we’ve come up with heaps of shit, Ant.” Yeah, so, you know, it’s like that.
I started Googling it last night to see if it was actually a real thing… Okay, you couldn’t find anything on it? Well, okay, for example, to be specific, if I’m to do some signatures on the street with a certain group of friends in Ireland or Vienna, and I don’t particularly want to be writing the signature that I would write on my professional canvasses, then I adopt a different name. And these are names that have kind of existed over time for me. And just running around in the streets hanging out with different demographics of creatives, from the most absurd and ephemeral practices, and them taking themselves and their work absolutely hardcore serious, in comparison to artists whose artwork will echo in eternity and will be in the canon of art history, and they just see themselves as absurdist kind of Dadas, like, “Well whatever, blah blah blah.” It’s really extreme and massively ironic a lot of the times, you know? So, you have these graffiti artists and their work will be cleaned off in five, ten hours at most, and they’re just f*cking balls to the wall sweating and, you know, you don’t want to say the wrong thing, and it’s serious, you know? Yeah, so that’s it. So, different names… same stink, different city.
When you create a new piece of art is there any formula to it? Or is there a completely different approach each time? Well, that’s a good question. It’s a little bit different each time and there’s a little bit of formula to it. The formula exists in the activation of the materials, mostly so they don’t rot and decay over time, just for an archival point of view. But outside of that, gosh, you’ve really stumped me. If there is a formula I think I have written it down, and I think I keep losing it for a reason. Yeah, and then there’s something else that you asked just now…
Do you start by say, drawing an outline with a pencil for example? I know nothing about art… Okay, yeah, so I would try and go in with some sort of idea, and if I don’t have an idea, which is often the case, I’ll be attracted to something that is… what’s the word when you can taste what it looks like? Not ‘onomatopoeia’, is it ‘tactile’? Anyway, it’ll be a colour or something and then I’ll go right into it. But yeah, it’ll start with some sketches maybe, like what I’m doing up here. This is an old thing I’m trying to emulate because I lost the actual book, so I just found photos of it the other day. I’m trying to actually make a book at the moment about my process and the steps that I go through; taking it very literally from a photo shoot, to sketches, to paintings; trying to take it pretty literally. But outside of that, I just finished a body of work which I showed in Brisbane at Fireworks Gallery about the Ned Kelly series of works…
Is that Bad Boys? Yeah, the Bad Boys show, with Scott Redford. I remade 25 of the 27 Ned Kelly paintings that Sidney Nolan painted – historically legendary paintings and I remade them, and then just edited them. I actually made them a bit too good; I think I made them a bit too similar. But then I paint this and I think, “Oh shit, I got it too close, it looks too much like it,” so then I’d write, “Dead cops, ten points.” And then to add onto that, I made a Ned Kelly suit out of wheelie bins, I was pretty happy with that. I like sculpture too, I like bronze; there’s a bronze hand actually. And I’m sorry but in this interview I’m not sure if there’s any visuals of any of this stuff, but this is a bronze hand, and it’s not very good. I made it in Bondi actually. It’s quite heavy. But this is how love greets you, and this is how love leaves you, right? And that’s fathers, sons, girlfriends, parents, children. It’s like, “Love is a motherf*cker.”
So do you need to heat that up to shape it? Oh no, okay, so I build it out of clay and then I send it to my forger. What’s his name in Greek mythology? You know, the guy who makes the weapons for God? Anyway, there’s a name for the guy who makes the weapons of the Gods and he’s a large person, and I sent it to my guy like that, his name’s Dean. Rodin was a great sculptor. Hephaestus! That’s it, Hephaestus.
So, the Bad Boys exhibition, that’s at the Fireworks Gallery in Brisbane? That’s right, yeah.
And there’s 25 pieces? That must’ve taken you frigging forever to do that; do you just work your arse off for months until it’s done? How long does it take you to get it done? It’s just got to get done, but I guess a couple of months maybe, to do them all. I pretty much will sketch them all quite swiftly and then it’s just a matter of rendering them. I wrote something down about it that said something like, something about… I’d like to get it right so I’m just going to have a quick look. I’ve got a lot of notes, these are all my formulas. It’s like, time travel and all sorts of shit in here. It’s like, Rick and Morty’s f*cking… what is it, is it dark matter or something? Dark matter formulas. It’s very simple really, but it’s something like, “Painting is a constant mistake after rendering…” If it’s not on this page, I surrender. But you know, it’s a mistake thing. It’s okay, it’s not important. When we find it, it’s just going to be an anticlimax. No, it will be, really. I’ll keep looking though, because it’s really going to be the biggest anticlimax.
I need to hear what it is now… You’re going to hold on for it? Yeah, see this is where all my big ideas go. Okay, here we go: “Painting is resolving one mistake after another.” It’s resolving; painting is resolving one mistake after another. So, that’s good. Okay, so another way of saying it; a great painter, Chuck Close, said, “I’m far more interested in problem creation than problem solution.” In my saying, when I say, “Painting is resolving one mistake after another,” it’s solution finding – it’s problem solving. When we start with a white canvas, there’s no problem there; it blends in with the wall, there’s no problem. It’s when we start marking it, that’s when the equations of how to nut this thing out actually become difficult. That’s painting, and it’s a wonderful and dangerous journey. You can get lost in a vortex.
I watched your documentary last night, Have You Seen The Listers? Oh, cool one, fresh. I have not seen it for a long time.
It is bloody unreal, I absolutely loved it… Thank you.
I don’t know if it was part of the message of the doco, but I sometimes got this feeling that you kind of used your art to escape or run away from something; is your work an escape for you? Are you hiding or running away from anything? Sure, everything, everyone, all the time. But I think I do it for everybody. I think it’s actually something that… I’m out here so that everybody else doesn’t have to be. It would be nice if everybody else was making stuff as much as they were breaking stuff, or critiquing other people for doing it, but they’re not. And it’s a bit sad actually, in this current climate, that there’s so much of society held within the shackles of authority, to the point where they would press a button if told to do so by somebody in a uniform until somebody else died. That’s scary.
I think a lot, and I think I act moderately in comparison to how much I think. I also think a lot of people don’t act at all. And it’s a dark time, it’s a dark time when you can’t put an ad on the radio, you know? Advertising, going out there writing on the walls what your vote is. That’s dark. Do you reckon that’s dark?
Are you using painting as a way of escaping though? Naturally, who wouldn’t? It’s like saying, “Do you drive your car as a way of escape?” It’s like, f*cking yes – going from A to B, it’s a journey. I think anything done in solitude definitely tinkers on escapism, and isolation. That’s the nature of doing anything by oneself. And something so selfish as painting, or driving a car for that matter, is definitely escapism, that would be one of the words.
Do you know why you’re trying to escape, or what you’re actually trying to escape from? Well, everything…
Just reality? Well, reality is a very general term. To be more articulate, I’d say everything else that I’m not doing. Yeah, there you go.
When you were capturing all that footage, did you ever envisage that there would one day be a documentary made about your life? Or was it just coincidental that you were documenting everything? Yeah, it was just coincidental. I didn’t even feel like I was making that many movies actually; I didn’t really know any programs very well at all, if any. I still don’t. I was kind of just pressing the photos and then occasionally would press the red button.
All those key moments that you captured in your life… Yeah.
Even the voicemails between you and Annika… Well, I mean that was just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, because that’s harsh as shit, you know. There are a lot of things – a lot of context – that are missing from the film too. A lot of times it would be, like, in LA for example, but there would be years apart. So there’s so much pain actually, and so much travel, so much actual effort that was kind of left out of that film. Not that I needed there to be some sort of acknowledgement of it, but it was condensed.
I can’t think of another example where so many years of a person’s life have been put so well into an hour and a half, it is so well made… I don’t know who filmed as much as me. And I didn’t even really feel like I was filming. I mean, really, when it comes down to it I guess I’m a documentarian, but at the same time I’m a complete narcissist, so it doesn’t even really matter. Like, what does it mean? If you’re documenting someone else or an animal then props to you, but if you’re just filming yourself…
Does narcissism always have to have a negative connotation? You’ve created this movie about you but without really coming across as arrogant… I took all this footage, and it’s strange because it started out like taking photos of my paintings, and me and my mates skateboarding, and then you start hoarding your photos and your photo albums, and then it just becomes a collection of not only your friends’ work, but your own work. And I don’t spend that much time looking back, and when you’re documenting you’re not looking back all that much. Although I do look back, I think I just move forward a lot. And I think Eddie must’ve really thought, “Oh, here we go,” the director must’ve thought, “F*ck yeah, this kid’s done all my work for me!”
Well, I suppose you have… And then I couldn’t have woven it together like that, I would’ve woven it together like some sort of Guns N’ Roses film clip. He did a good, emo job.
You’ve been constantly exhibiting around the globe and receiving huge amounts of attention overseas for your art; have you had the same response here in Australia that you’ve had overseas? I don’t know. For someone that’s based in Sydney, I’ve never seen someone have 50 per cent of their market being the US or something, you know what I mean? And I find that quite fascinating for someone that’s based in Australia. This last show I just did, all of the sales were US and UK.
This is Bad Boys? Yeah, it’s pretty rad.
You were based in New York for a bit? I was based in New York, and when I get on the road I really punch it, I really go hard.
In the documentary there’s this quote where you said, “In environments like Europe and America there’s history of respecting creativity and having it’s value in society. Australia, not so much. Brisbane, f*ck no! But I believe that change is possible and I have to fight for it.” How is that fight going? Well, okay, so in context to having said that, that was when I was returning to Brisbane to go to court. And actually they missed the bit where, did they say that cost me $78,000 to go to court that time? That was expensive, and it was to not get a conviction, sure. But it was also to say, “No, I’m not going to let you guys just f*ck me like this.” And it was probably, maybe, I don’t know if it was good or bad, or whatever. It looked good, I was wearing a terrible suit, but it made a point for the police, who aren’t our friends, and it’s sad but it’s true. So, f*ck the police, and all cops are bastards.
I’ve had some less than enjoyable experiences with police as well but I realise that they’re not all pricks… No, of course.
Do you really feel that strongly about the police? Well, I haven’t actually been in a situation where the police have made it better when they’ve gotten involved, just to be honest. And I’ve been in a few of those situations in the peripheral, or in the direct, and actually, you know, I can’t think of one where they’ve made it better. So yeah, I reckon I stand by that one.
Do they need to change how they train police and how policing is done? Massively, of course they need to. Yeah, of course, it’s absurd, you know, the brutes. They’re brutes, and whoever thinks they’re joining the police force to change anything for the better is seriously disrupted in the head. Because what they’ll soon find out is that they’re yet to be brainwashed and they’re joining the bigger gang than any gang on the street. And that’s great for them but, I don’t know, I’d rather have no opinion on it, but the fact is I do.
How do you define ‘success’? Do you care about being successful or are you just happy doing your thing, regardless of what other people think? Okay, well they’re different things. I do think I’m happy doing my thing regardless. I mean, what people think – what people, what time period – it’s all too vague. As far as success goes, I’ve said before, success to me is waking up and wanting to get up. And I think I stand by that. Is it important to me? Yeah, I need to want to get up. And some days I don’t want to get up, they’re the days I’m not very successful – at getting up, for starters. But, in general, maybe they’re just down days.
Has your success brought you happiness? Oh yeah, it’s bought me heaps of shit, man. I’ve bought that car out the front.
Matte black! Yeah, I painted it. Okay, so happiness, it’s a bit of a trick, happiness, because there’s that whole bit where, one foot up, one foot down, with the left comes the right… and happiness is a bit dramatic of a step to jump to when it comes to thinking about the future or the past. I like to think about it in place of joy, and I like to think about joy in the sense that it’s constantly lurking, waiting to surprise you. And that’s how I curb my expectations of happiness. And that wasn’t thought up by me, I’m just passing on the teachings of the taught. Yeah.
Can you tell us a bit about your time over in Bali and Canggu? Well, I was naturally shopping for tasers and laser pistols. I like to go souvenir shopping, DVD shopping, and sometimes I forget to unpack – what was that firearms charge I almost got? It was for a BB gun. And also those lights, the laser lights that point up really high. Oh, and cigarettes, lots of cigarettes. We had a lot of cigarettes. You just go to Bali to shop, you know. Give money to the kids, run from monkeys, that sort of thing.
A lot of your art over there has been covered and hidden away as new development takes place; do you bum out when that happens? Oh, I don’t get the memos, but it just happens. I’m just undercoat for somebody else and I don’t mind that, it’s something that I’ve come to terms with. I guess first, in the early days, maybe it bothered me, but my practice in the wild, I don’t have control over that. I have control over what I do, but after that… I mean, they’re gifts that I feel like I sincerely give to the communities, and with harm to none, I really try to bring joy and enlightenment through my activation of these things. So, yeah, when they’re gone it’s a bummer, but hopefully by me making it in the first place it’s turned on ten other people who will continue on in my path and populate and promulgate other creative areas.
I assume you’re selling the majority of what you’re creating; do you ever wish you’d kept some of those artworks back? Do you ever miss any of your paintings now that you don’t have them anymore? All of them. All of them. I’m like the alien mothership where I just give these aliens out, you know? But I’ve got to be hard as f*ck, like a soldier, because I make these things that I love, these children of my corn, these spawn of my echoing existence, and then I have to let them go. Like, this kind of breeding mothership that sells children or breast milk. You know that women just pump breast milk all day long? Like, have this whole fleet of breast milk? Like that, but I’m not pumping it so much like that, I’m just like… you know? I make things I love and then I have to let them go. It’s hard. It’s hard to turn off the love for things because they’re not objects to me. It’s like saying a child is an object, it’s like being able to sell a child. Who can sell a child? It’s not an object, but people can sell children. People think of children like their objects, and that’s disturbing, but you just hope that the parents of these babies that you send out there, that somebody sells for monetary value – that disgusts me – you just hope that they’re getting good parents. Because I’m obviously too busy making to be, you know, hanging out with paintings all day. Playing in the playground, shit like that. I’ve been there you know, I’ve got too many permanent children right now.
How do you feel about social media and the world’s addiction to it? Oh, okay, yeah. So, social networking, social media. Look, it’s dangerous, it’s scary, it’s out there, it’s a third person, it’s a third wheel, it’s an elephant in the room. As soon as I turn on my computer, it’s like, “Hey, how are you doing?” Actually, I find it offensive, but I won’t obviously tell anybody that I’m offended. Not for another ten years I think, until it comes about that actually, all of the underwater people… Okay, so getting back to it, long story short, screens, beans, no longer a fruit, the more you screen the more you f*cking end the world.
Do you like the way society’s going? The narcissism, the commercialism, that sort of thing? Do you think about that much? Sure. Because I’m an elder, or at least an adult, that’s for certain. And just looking at this hell we’ve developed, and where we’re going, it’s increasingly disturbing and needs immediate attention. For one, the environment; for two, the human condition; for three, the leaders; for four, the police; for five, the environment; for six, the human condition; for seven, the leaders… yes, you know, there’s problems. And, there’s an island of waste in the water, there’s children dying of starvation and malnutrition in today’s age. There are children in prisons. You know, they build 22 prisons for every one university in the States at the moment? Like, what the f*ck?
That’s insane… What the f*ck? In the Northern Territory of Australia, 99 per cent of inmates are indigenous. That’s f*cking ridiculous, it’s out of control. And here we’ve got Coca-Cola with every single billboard, not telling people to rise up and fight the system, not telling people to feed the children water, or to get an education; they’re telling them to drink sugar. And now everyone’s diabetic and it’s… I don’t know, the greedy are getting greedier and the rich are getting complacent, and I don’t know, there’s a lot of people that won’t ever own houses, a lot of people won’t ever own fruit. There’s a lot of people that won’t ever see the ocean, and they live right next door to it. It’s terrible, it’s really shocking. Well, what do you do? Turn on the air conditioner, whack on the telly, buy some Ben and Jerry’s and watch some Netflix. What are you going to do?
How would you describe Australian culture? Yeah, very good question. Okay, culture… well, culture is over. Culture is over for us, sadly.
For us, as in Australia? Yeah, yeah. Culture is over, we never had a chance. Boxing kangaroo in a cage, cockatoo in a cage, what would they paint if they could do one more? Beach umbrellas, perverts on the beach, dead kangaroos, wombats, koalas, roadkill, dingoes eating baby, bikey speed production from burnouts on light bulbs, Crocodile Dundee f*cking a crocodile, Mad Max, Aboriginal, family barbecue, Aboriginal Ronald McDonald, football players… You know, drinking in the park, police brutality, what’s Australian culture? Shall I go on?
Yeah, if there’s more… Okay, build an ATM, write the New Testament, make a website, publish literature, stickers, start a cult, start a peaceful revolution, die a hero, live long enough to become a villain, lottery tickets… Culture is over, that’s for certain. I think that’s it.
That’s covered it… I think we did it. Yeah, I mean there’s more, but that’s just the inlay.
You studied a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Queensland College of Arts; what made you choose that path, and did you find it to be a worthwhile exercise? Yeah, I did. I found going to university very worthwhile. I didn’t really know it until afterwards though.
Would you recommend that artists study at a professional institution like QCA? Sure, look, anyone with any interest in intellectual conversation or ways and means of conversing articulately, like a f*cking art snob, knob head f*cking artsy fartsy… what else do you call them here? You know, a f*cking…
Toff… Yeah, all those things. You know, the words. It’s good to learn words, it’s good to converse, and it’s just good for discipline because it was hard for me, because I didn’t come from anyone that ever studied. Nobody in any existence of my family went to university, so I just kind of held on all the way. It wasn’t easy, it’s not like I had a choice to do it. You hear of some of these kids in some of these countries, with wealth, bank accounts that they could never even penetrate of their family’s dynasty, say, “Oh you know, I chose to do it, it was a good choice…” but for me, I
worked my arse off to get into it.
Was it a three-year course? Through school, and then through getting into university, like I was the last bracket of people that could get into university based on a portfolio and certain grades in high school. I was very fortunate actually. I tried one year and I didn’t get in. I tried the next year and I did get in. And it was good. I mean, I hated it, and I failed, and then I passed, but looking back on it, it was very fundamental to my development as far as being able to have a vocabulary and operate with professionals as I do today. And it’s one of these things you tick off a box, like dropping in on a skateboard. It’s like, “Yeah, yeah I did it.” You can’t say you did it if you didn’t do it, and then once you do it, they be like, “Did you do it?” and you’re like, “Yeah I did it,” and it’s cool, let’s move on, let’s talk about other things. But if you didn’t do it, it’s like, “Oh, you didn’t do it?” Do you know what I mean?
I don’t know if I do… Like skateboarding or something, you know? You don’t want to pretend you’re something you’re not. So like, when you’re going to do art school or something, or when you’re taking something seriously, you want to get it done so that every other conversation in the future isn’t wrapped around somebody that has done something, judging you for something.
It gives you credibility, having completed the course? That’s probably a better way of saying what I’m saying, yeah.
When I was Googling you last night… You were not.
I Googled you so much… Oh, gosh.
The name Max Gimblett comes up a lot; can you tell us about Max and how he influenced your work? Well, Max is a f*cking old school graffiti artist. He never took it to the streets but he’s got the power. He taught me moves that have stuck with me.
Would you say he’s your biggest influence? No, no, breathing is massively my biggest influence. But artistically speaking, he has this Jidokwan power, you know? He has this chi about him that’s… yeah, he was serious, he’s a serious dude, and when you make coffee for Max, you best not f*ck it up, because he gets harsh, really harsh. And he’ll say things to you that will hurt your feelings. And it’s just real and he’s just… maybe he’s having a bad day, but he’s a nice guy, he’s Buddhist, a practising monk. What can I say about Max? You see him with a mop, you do your tags differently after that. Yeah, he’s serious.
Do you have a favourite Australian artist? Oh wow, yeah sure. Well, first it goes straight to Brett Whiteley, okay. So that’s the obvious, that’s who I came up thinking, “Wow, that’s party art, what a legend.” And since then, maybe more so, as far as Australians go, Norman Lindsay. Or, I would say Ian Fairweather is a real legend. And you know, his work didn’t even really end up looking any good, but he really had a dynamism. He really had a f*cking… just a synergy of calmness and peaceful irreverence for anything outside of his work. It was very Van Gogh of him. He actually built a raft to sail to Asia from Fraser Island, which he lived on – f*cking goannas and shit with no power – for decades. He built this raft, he went out fifteen days, he was just on this raft, dying. They said he was dead and then they found him alive, and then he went back to his f*cking hut and kept painting. What a legend, what a legend!
When asked about your paintings of ballerinas, you’ve been quoted as saying, “I’m interested in culture and societies’ judgment systems on culture. Ballerinas are kind of like strippers, but they don’t take their clothes off. I’m interested in breaking art, I’m interested in philosophy.” What do you mean by ‘breaking art’? Oh good, yeah, okay so as far as breaking art goes, it’s an absurd concept, and I think absurdity needs to be kept in the realm of consciousness when it comes to making art, or artefacts for that matter. So when it comes to making facts, absurdity needs to be kept in mind because everything you imagine is real when it comes to the realm of practising magic, and I think Picasso would be the first to acknowledge that breaking art is in the forefront and utmost prioritisation of any practitioner that is willing to take it to the end of the peak where the slither exists where you can slap it and it’s actually put down in the books of history. But I’m just a child. All the good ones are dead, but at least they get to live through us, hey.
Have you had much feedback from the Nolan fans on the Bad Boys exhibition? I don’t know if I have. I get scared of my messages, what do they say about it? The responses have been really good.
In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Anthony Lister? Wow, okay. In an ideal world, what does the future hold? Well, in an ideal world, to see us all living forever. Well, personally, professionally speaking, it would see epic examinations of my practice in museums around Australia and around the world. Touring and inspiring a lot of kids that go to school and don’t know what to do with themselves, and adults, or aliens for that matter. Personally speaking, I would just see me growing old, and my children growing old, and their children growing old, and everybody doing it happily, and the environment being strong, and there being this collective consciousness of positivity, good human contact, no war.
How would you like to be remembered? Oh wow, that’s even sweet just to say remembered – to think that you’d go down remembered. I mean, how many people are even remembered, you know? I’ve got books on people that I never knew that I will remember. And then there’s memory of people that you actually knew. But remembered? I guess you can only be as remembered by as many people as you know, or as many people who think they know you through your practice. So, there’s those two things again: there’s the professional, and then there’s the life. How would I like to go down remembered professionally? It would be awesome to be standing on the shoulders of giants, echoing in eternity with some relevant significant technical and conceptual rationale of something special. Personally, I just want to… I’m flattered to think that anyone would remember me. Given that if that was the case, as a happy, funny, sweet, peaceful dude. That’s how it would be. Just suck on my finger and look at them with my big eyelashes.
You’ve always been nice to everyone? People will have nice, fond memories of you by the sounds of things… Oh, well, that’s only from my account. Actually, I hear the latter. I hear a lot of bullshit about me, but I don’t know where anyone gets it from. I feel like I am nice to everybody.
The Beast is an Eastern Suburbs magazine so we should probably quickly touch on your time in Bondi… Sure, sure, okay. Well, you know, the famous Bondi wall, the pool there, I actually activated that and painted a big ‘Bondi’ for the first time there, where it says ‘Bondi’, you know where I mean?
You did the first graffiti there, at the north end? Yeah, on the pool. I did the first graffiti. Before me there was a community painting or something that had been there for like 17 years, or something that no one could even recognise. And I just was like, “F*ck this,” and I actually, over a series of nights, went down and did a massive Bondi painting.
At North Bondi? Yeah, at North Bondi, at the pool there. And then eventually it got covered up, or something, and then they commissioned an artist to actually go back and do it, but they did it smaller than I’d done it. And what else about Bondi? I mean, so many things…
How long did you live here for? I lived in Bondi for about six months, but I’d been dating Bondi for about a year and a half solidly in the lead up, and on the kind of, what do they call it? Detoxing of Bondi? It’s something that really takes a hold of your whole lifestyle, your whole spirit. I felt like I was really connected to Bondi.
Were you planning on living in Bondi long-term? Yeah, I was. Sure, sure I was. The plan was to live in Bondi for a summer and then see what happened. You know, get the kids in school there, but it wasn’t meant to be. There was a drastic shift in my trajectory, or at least in my family’s trajectory. I kind of was a bit two steps behind. But I would travel from Bondi to Miami to Paris, back and forward, you know, come home, and I just left my house to a bunch of skaters from f*cking Texas or Toronto, or some shit. I’d arrive home from Miami to find Dustin, Dawn, f*cking ten other f*cking Satanic skating monkeyheads asleep in my shit. You know, clogged toilets… But it was great. I painted a bit out there, but for somebody with so much to run from, Bondi seems at times too small of a pond to constantly keep weeing in, and not getting everyone looking at you when you get out of the pool, if you know what I mean? The purple kind of tinge, just around a bit too long, and you’re like, “Oh shit, okay.” Pick another name, or move to another state or something, I don’t know. Yeah, I speak in a lot of riddles, but they’re not really riddles; they’re just like ambiguous kind of anecdotes, you see?