ANTI POWER TRIPPING: THE Anthony Lister Interview
Say what you will about Anthony Lister… But he’s a force to be reckoned with. With a style of his own, a confident attitude, and the work to back it up he is turning out brilliant contemporary pieces. He has me feeling like a high school cheerleader shouting “the bigger the better” (laugh out loud)… I’m a very big fan of his large canvas work but any size translates his raw emotion and form.
When I first saw your work I thought of Francis Bacon, the way his grotesque distorted figures become a beautiful work of art. Yet your style is definitely Lister. You’ve grabbed this technique, tore it up, crumpled it into a ball and then flattened it out to make it yours. How did you come up with the Lister style? And when was that?
I’m not sure of when but I’m also not sure if I can even call it my own. I definitely didn’t borrow it from anybody and I definitely pay attention to people that I’m paying attention to so I can try to pay “Less” attention to them. Francis obviously was introduced to me by Brett Watley who used to visit him in his studio many years ago. He’s a very famous Australian artist who did very well for himself. So for him to go out there and find these other artist so he could introduce them into his practice in order to introduce them to me into my practice is very telling of the man. I think that’s what a lot of being a painter is about and should be about. Paying homage to those who have gone before you and paying respect by mentioning them, not necessarily by copying them or borrowing works by them, but by merely acknowledging them.
You have a Bachelors degree in Fine Arts from Queensland College of art in Bisbane. Did that help you create your style that we are all familiar with now or did you throw that all out the window?
I wouldn’t say I abandoned anything that I’ve learned. I was fortunate enough to put everything that I knew before I went to University in a time capsule and then pull it back out after I finished school. So as to be untouched. So does it help me make my work? Not necessarily, I mean none of my professors even used any of the materials that I use to make my work. None of the professors have ever even learned to use the tools that I use to make my work. So I would say its a no.
You came to NYC at the age of 17?
No I was 22.
What made you do that?
I guess just the city itself. Whenever I went to any city I’ve always shot for the middle of it straight away. I’ve always wanted to see the most intense part of that city in order to be able to digest everything easily after it so there weren’t any surprises. So I guess for me NYC was the most intense city and center of the world. The most intense place that I could go to start in the middle and then work my way out with the practice that I was applying myself to. You knew nothing was going to shock me if I could wrap my head around New York.
You had a solo show called “Unsung Heroes” back in 2012 at Outsiders/Lazarides Gallery and that was the first one to occupy both spaces since David Choe’s show. That’s a very reputable gallery with such amazing talent that has been shown there. Were you intimidated by all the greats before you?
I love those artist work but intimidated, no. I’m meant to be in there with the others.
Yes you are. I’ve read somewhere that you were a musician… I’ve always felt and stressed that the two are so similar, actually closer than people realize. So these next few questions all pertain to music.First off, what instrument do you play?
Primarily I play the piano but I can play the drums, guitar, bass, everything but the trumpet. I sing and rap also.
What music did you listen to growing up?
Ah, the Beastie Boys, Elton John, Black Flag, Dire Straights, Fleetwood Mac. Shit my mom would listen also and shit my dad listened too. Anything along the way.
What are you listening to now?
Pretty much the same kind of stuff but also ASAP Rocky and King Krule.
Yeah he’s hot. Now do you listen to music when you create?
Definitely, I need to listen to music. These days I’ll put on Pandora and hit up like Guns and Roses, 50cent, or ASAP it all depends on who’s around. I’m pretty casual.
What’s the one album cover that you remember seeing that you loved so much and stuck in your mind?
Yeah yeah cool, alright it was Appetite for Destruction by Guns and Roses. It’s like this prostitute in the street with her legs wide open in the gutter and it has this demon reaching up from above. I love it because I remember a Time interview with Bob Dylan where he said “I can’t answer these questions…” He was doing this great interview (you can google it for yourself) and he tries to describe a picture, and the interviewer says “what kind of picture” and Bob says “Well I don’t know, it will be like this prostitute laying down in the street with her legs wide open in the gutter…” So Appetite for Destruction is made after that picture. It’s full circle for me.
Your listed under Wikipedia as one of Australia’s most renowned Contemporary artists, that’s a heavy load to carry for such a young artist. How does that make you feel?
I don’t usually read what’s on Wikipedia. I remember once it said I was raised by a pack of wild wolves or my father was a Columbian cocaine dealer.
Do you and the wolves keep in touch?
(Laughing) No, well to tell you the truth that wasn’t true. That’s how much faith I put into those kind of things. As far as “renowned” I’m not sure what that word really even means…To be nowned again? Yeah contemporary for sure but I don’t even use the word artist. I’ll just say that I’m a great painter. I’ll just be standing in this looming deep dark shadow of my ancestors and these gods that have gone before me.
As a artist are you more drawn to the streets or would you rather be just a gallery and museum artist? Your work makes that transition so smoothly.
Oh it doesn’t matter to me. If all I had was this tree, (pointing to the one we are sitting under) and these finger nails then eventually I would start to carve into the tree with my fingernails. Because it’s ingrained in my genetics to want to scratch and carve and leave marks in things. Now I’m not sure if that’s because I want to leave traces of me for the people of the future or if its just to entertain myself in the present. Either way it’s definitely ingrained in me to leave my marks. I really need to entertain my hands basically.
You apprenticed under the great Max Gimblett who became a mentor to you (one of New Zealand’s most influential living artists). What was one of the most important lesson that you learned through that experience that you took with you into your own work?
Max taught me with a big brush you can do little things but with a little brush you can’t do big things. So choose your materials wisely.
I’ve seen one of your shows where your canvas’s were huge… I think the work looks amazing on that scale and translates perfectly. So the question is do you apply the same intensity to your smaller work as the larger scope pieces?
Yeah I do, I do. It doesn’t matter much like Max has said, except for the consideration of what tools I’ll use. That’s what it all comes down to.
What’s the one thing that you hate about the art market?
Personally I don’t get involved in it.
But you are a commodity now?
Sure but you see I make work and somebody sells that work for me. But ultimately when it comes down to it I just want to be able to make more work. From the earliest point in my career I’ve always just put everything I’ve made back into my work. Actually it makes me feel uncomfortable when someone try’s to give me, for example, a thousand dollars cash for a piece of my work that maybe I just drew in front of them. It makes me feel uncomfortable because I’ve worked a lot of shitty jobs and had to work hard for money all of my life. So to think that somebody could part so easily with their money like that, personally it’s unsettling. So if there’s anything I really hate about the market it’s probably to be taken too seriously for it. You know I’m not fixing kids eyes in a foreign country, there are still homeless people on the streets and kids who aren’t getting proper nutrition and education. It’s a tough world out there.
I want to ask you a couple questions about the book you just dropped at the Standard the other night called Sketchbook that has been 10 years in the making as far as the artwork. So how does it feel to be naked with your sketches out there exposing your weaknesses and strengths in drawing?
Well I feel that I want to explain or at least try to explain it even though I can’t exactly explain it to myself. Or maybe someone else could look at these and explain it to me who I’ve become, see what I’ve built. Some of them are working towards larger pieces and some of them are just mindless doodles. I guess by choosing a selection of the last 10 years it was a way of me just shedding off the burden of carrying these books around. 10 years is like 40 books. So this becomes just the compressed version. So I feel like after releasing this…if they all were to burn then I would be fine with that because this book has now made it out for history.
Does your talent ever impress you? And I don’t mean that in a self centered way. But I know that when you’re in the moment of creating shit happens that you don’t even realize…it’s like your body is taken over and you’re just in it. Do you ever just step back and think “damn… I did that?” Or are you just so comfortable in your skin that it doesn’t even pass through your mind?
Yeah you know sometimes it really does. It surprises me and it does amaze me and its in those moments that I’m not responsible for whatever it is that they call talent. I’m merely a channel or vessel for these ancestors and these legends of the past to come through. You know at that moment the body is not important.
Amen. When did you start getting into Bronze sculptures? Do you enjoy that medium?
Yeah definitely. I’ve always made things out of clay, always made things out of wet mud. Whether it started off with mashed potatoes as a child and then ice cream. Well now it’s turned into clay and then Bronze. I’ve got a great team of artisans who put it together once I build it. It’s nice to have something that starts from being so fragile and so delicate that I tip toe around with my fingers and then hand deliver it in bubble wrap and feathers to the artisans. It’s then forged in these metals and now it will last forever. Yeah that’s a great feeling…sonic echoes and eternity forever.
Ok Anthony, lets talk about Power Tripping, your first solo show for Jonathan Levine Gallery which opens on June 28th. You’ve painted super heroes for this show, were you into comic books growing up? Were super heroes actually your heroes?
Yeah I was into Spider Man and Marvel comic books mainly. I’m interested in the mythology of heroes and villains, I’m interested in power struggles. These Power Trippers or authoritarians and dethroning them. Just because someone is wearing a badge doesn’t make them the end all of right and wrong. I actually don’t believe in right and wrong, I believe in good and evil. I believe the justice system isn’t “just-us” but that it’s “just-them” and they’re usually hating.
I read in your press release that you like to call this work “Adventure Painting.” Tell me about this technique and how did you stumble upon this style?
I’m an adventure painter in a sense were I’m not traditional…I’m a problem solver. Once Chuck Close described problem solving and adventure painting stating “I’m far more interested in problem creation than problem solution.” And I think that’s a characteristic of an adventure painter. Robert Rauschenberg, Francis Bacon, Willem De Kooning, they were all adventure painters. They never called themselves adventure painters but that’s what they were. It is what it is. It’s problem solving with more problems on top.
Who is one of your contemporaries that you admire?
Ben Frost… He’s a really good friend and colleague of mine and I love talking to him about the craft and being a practitioner.
What’s the one question that nobody ever ask you but you wish they did?
The one good question would be “what is the one question?” That to me is the great question. The one that you just asked me.
So is that your answer?
I’m not really sure (both laughing).
Ok Anthony,one last Question. What plans do you have for the future other than taking over the world?
(Laughing) Well outside of that, just looking forward to chilling out and cleansing. Freeing up my mind for more room to do much bigger projects that will come my way.
As you can tell Anthony loves controversial subjects. I agree wholeheartedly. I believe this is why street art is becoming “the art” of our time. It speaks to so many more people and about their struggle, wrong doings, inequality and more. Not to take away anything from the masters, especially their techniques or style. But how many lily pads, poppy fields or beach scenes can you look at….and who do they speak to?
I would like to thank Anthony Lister for taking the time to chat. Check out his show Power Tripping which runs till July 26 at Jonathan LeVine Gallery. And again I stress… Please support the arts…Because a world without art is a world without heart. I would like to thank my friend and curator Robert Aloia for all his support and connections. You can follow him on Instagram here.
Ken Caruso is the ANTI Society’s in-house street art and photography expert. He is a decorative artist and owner and operator of Alternative Interiors in New Jersey as well as an avid collector and graffiti hunter. He also has his own radio show on Friday nights “Live…Without a net” on chestnutradio.com. Follow him on Instagram @djkcaruso.