I saw some paint-splattered shoes weave in and out of skateboards and spray cans as they paced along an oriental rug. I knocked tentatively on a half-raised garaged door in Bondi not quite knowing what was on the other side. A voice called out—“Yes, come in.” I crawled under and saw a long profile of a man that had to be him.
Turning around with spacey eyes, he extended a friendly hand and said “Hi, I’m Anthony.” I had found him…the one and only Anthony Lister.
I wondered how long I would have before he’d grow restless and move on, but he assured me, “No, of course not, I’m here.” And we settled in.
“So who is Anthony Lister?”
“Anthony Lister is kind of like a busy brained nobody. He kind of prefers to be sitting in a back alley by himself, or with bums if they’re not talking shit, than in any sort of club drinking any sort of fancy whatevers… usually.”
You probably know him better as the artist that’s been bridging the divide between low brow and fine art though. Or maybe you’ve seen him on the list of the top 50 most collectible Australian artists? Or maybe you know him as the 2nd best muralist of 2013 world wide?
“I have a problem with the word artist though so let’s just say painter or freedom fighter.”
Fighting for what exactly?
“The freedom of visual speech.”
In a world where we don’t want to read but see messages, he is preaching the answer to the 21st century. It’s all the same to him though because “Pictures are just shapes that haven’t become letters yet and letters are just shapes that haven’t become pictures yet.”
His pictures are often praised in the tight-knit circles of curators and friends, but he doesn’t see them as anything of the sort.
“I would never be as bold as to assume I’m original. I don’t want anything to do with being unoriginal…but I don’t know…it’s a tricky one. [We live in a] reincarnation society where originality is just going to be a product of how recent a reincarnation of someone else’s creativity was conceived.”
His work is a reincarnation of all the rules fine art has to offer juxtaposed against all the affordances of a fuck you kind of graffiti.
He is an immaculate mediation of contradictions. He is Gen X’s perfect love child-parented by the will to set the world on fire and the optimism to recreate it again from the ashes.
“I’d rather just pretend to break shit but really be making shit.”
The world wasn’t made for guys like Anthony Lister, so he made his own out of paint after he carved himself out of a two-week Datura trip.
“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Who am I and what do I do and how am I gonna live life?’ And I looked at my drawings that I had on the wall I thought, ‘I do art, oh of course I do.’ And I pretty much put together who I was gonna be and from that point on that’s who I've been. At 17 I was living the dream.”
And from that point on, he entered into the world of ‘formal thugness.’
We continued to talk on that balcony for a long while when he said, “Hey I want to show you something.”
He opened his lap top and began flipping through files. He opened video after video after video, offering a few fragmented words on each before another idea would strike and another window would open. Not bothering to close any of them, they played simultaneously—everything from edits of interviews to songs with Charles Manson to accidentally spray painting brides. I could only assume that this cacophony of chaos was analogous to the inside of his head.
He shifted restlessly in his seat—it was happening. He shot up. His eyes darted frantically around the room as he collected things in a bright pink pouch. “I uh…I have to paint. Do you want to come?” and we headed back down to the garage.
As he prepared to take that frenzied energy to canvas, he gave me a history lesson in fine art interspersed with G-Unit lyrics.
He continued with this as he arranged his desk, unearthing something glossy from the grunge.
“Have you seen this? Yeah I did they did this story on me last month.”
He threw over this month’s ‘Fashion Meets Art’ edition of Vogue (laughs).
And then he began. Inspiration had seized him and he was forced to ‘surrender to the adventure painting gods’ as manic waves washed over him and spilled out onto the canvas. He tackled three at once, sprinting between them as the ideas flooded in.
Then, after some time, the feverish spell broke—he was finished and something occurred that even he could not fully comprehend.
“I can’t know everything about how or why I do what I do.”
And that was it, he slipped back into the human realm.
“You want to head down for a swim?”
So he rolled a spliff, skipped across the road and dove into the ocean.
When he emerged, we sat there on the sand looking over at the end of the beach where the waves kissed his imposing Bondi mural.
“I almost feel like I would like to leave this game and then just take on one of my other dialects and just let all the thinking go on. This whole thing has cost me everything. My freedom, my time, my health…all sorts of things.”
In the end, it’s all worth it he conceded. His only regret? “I would have done more things that people said I shouldn’t.”
He’s been able to play it risky enough though by not fixating on “success” as the end game.
“Who needs to win? I’ll lose just so everyone gets over it and we move forward. It’s about the party afterwards.”
Ironic coming from a man that played the game better than any of us and won—and god damn did he win big.
You can get more of him here.