Anthony Lister has a phenomenal gift. He is renowned around the globe for merging radically different styles of art; from graffiti walls to elite galleries, Lister’s work fits everywhere.
Widely considered to be the best street artist in Australia, Lister developed a hobby of painting before studying fine art at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane.
This fusion of skills creates a unique style that garnered him international acclaim. We asked him about the development of his style, his motivation, and his impact on the art world.
Your work has evolved in many ways since you first got going on the streets of Brisbane all those years back. But in many ways, it’s still that very distinct Lister style that has permeated all of your output. How have you adapted your street art sensibilities to enable you to have large-scale paintings hang in fine art galleries and collections around the world?
“I used to try and keep all of my disciplines quite separate from each other, or at least I thought that was what I was doing.
“It was easier that way for me to have a clear difference and distinction between each practice and application, so not to confuse a piece I should finish quickly in the street for one I was getting ready to set up for the long haul in the studio.
“Over time, I slowly let go of keeping one style and approach isolated from the other and so they quite organically and slowly merged to be what it is today.”
I visited Max Gimblett’s studio in Soho a couple of years back and he spoke fondly of the time you spent learning from him in his workspace. How important was that time in New York towards shaping both your fine art technique and your outlook on art in general?
“Extremely. I am actually quite taken aback as I reflect on that period of time and my decision to take on that mentorship with Master Gimblett, to travel away from my homeland, away from my young family and all that I knew and loved.
“I learned so much about being present, about courage and my inner calming balance.
“Of course, I was but a fly on the wall watching a dragon slay paper beasts, and in these moments I learned more about the line and how in which to attack it than I have ever learned before or since.
“I am so thankful for the faith that I held in my heart to throw myself into that situation at such a young age and of course for the trust and willingness in which Max greeted me into his studio and in turn onto the streets of New York City.”
You’ve invariably been creative when planning your exhibitions, in terms of where and how the work will be presented. Do you think this approach has been shaped by your early experiences painting walls around Brisbane, and how important is it to you to ensure that your art shows are always presented how you envision them in your mind?
“I could not be sure if it is a product of going to galleries as a kid with my grandma, having formally studied fine art, or just being into setting up parties; but I find when setting up an exhibition that the curation of the work in relation to each and every other piece is fundamental.
“It’s environment, lighting, titles, even the font on the cards of the titles has always remained on the top of my priorities list. It is not to position every element to each show very precisely and to not move a thing once the hang is final.
You’ve been doing this for a long time now. Do you ever get sick of painting? How do you get past those days when creative block might be holding your artistic expression back?
“I like to think of a fantastic quote by the American painter Chuck Close when he said- ‘Inspiration is for beginners, the rest of us just get to work’. So to answer your question – yes and no. Mostly I am quite content and happy when I am painting.
“Sometimes it feels like I am the only doctor in some psycho emergency ward where all the paintings become tortured patients screaming at me to finish them, begging for my attention and sometimes whinging about how they looked better before I fucked with them.”
Do you find it a little surreal or ironic that so many talented artists around the world who had a similar background to yours (street art) are now being celebrated and embraced by the same ‘fine art community’ who would’ve no doubt been scornful of your work as a guerrilla artist back in the day?
“I’m not one to get caught up in the trivial nature associated with negative opinions concerning the subjectiveness of beauty, ephemeral public art or the reconstituting of ones judgment on either matter to be honest.
“On another note though, I will say that I am proud to be being interviewed right now as someone who has put the time and energy into a discipline that I deeply honour and respect.
“I am truly flattered to have achieved so much wonderful success and respect for my work. I am so grateful to have the privilege to travel the world making things and doing what I love. I feel blessed for my family and my fans that have supported me the whole way along.
“A wise old lady once told me: ‘In your twenties, you are just meant to find out what it is that you LOVE doing. In your thirties, you are supposed to apply yourself to that which you LOVE to survive. And in your forties, if you haven’t done what you were supposed to in your twenties and your thirties then you’re fucked’.
“Support the arts by going to openings and collecting work you love. Give food and blankets to homeless people. Smile at children. Reward positivity. Be good to each other.”
Very wise words from a driven and talented artist.