photo by charles mallison
On a sunny Los Angeles afternoon, I wander into New Image Art gallery’s newest location, and find Anthony Lister and several interns working in a flurry to mount his newest solo exhibition. Lister is fresh off of a series of large-scale murals in his signature gestural style throughout Los Angeles. He is generally known for his adventuresome street art antics and giant colorful superheroes, who are painted as modern mythological heroes. An Australian expatriate who resides in Brooklyn, Mr Lister’s work has been critically acclaimed throughout a series of sold-out solo shows. Upon entering the gallery I’m faced with a mixture of pastels and elegant ballerina figures prancing across the walls of the gallery, repeated alongside an adapted Van Gogh and miniature expressionistic penises. Lister’s new exhibition focusing on the classical practice of working from a live model opens on Thursday evening, with a live dance performance. This interview by Walt! Gorecki.
You’re doing a lot of work in this show referencing master painters like Van Gogh and Degas with the repeated ballerinas—it seems like a departure from your superhero work.
Not really. I mean, you know there’s not a lot of difference really between a superhero and a ballerina in my mind. Or a stripper for that matter. It’s really sort of cosmetic, it’s a facade really isn’t it? When I work, it’s all kind of figurative you know.
It’s a bit of a continuation of your work on misguided role models, although ballerinas are generally much more admirable in the minds of the general public.
Sure, until you see them being portrayed in a beauty pageant for under 8 year-olds. However, I don’t think many things are very disturbing, I think it’s all very interesting, as long as you’re interested.
I’ve read that you like the excitement of doing the installation, of creating something new for a new space.
When I’m building shows, it’s different every time. I don’t get excited, I just get ready. When it comes to a show, if I have time to get ready then I can make something amazing. A lot of the times in this game sometimes you’ll get two days to bump into a show, sometimes you’ll get two months. So working in situ is something I prefer to do for a whole body of work, in a whole space where it’s built into the space. But it’s not all of the time that you have the luxury to do that. I don’t feel that it’s a boundary that I have — I make different shows for different places. I just came from a show in Australia where I hired a 3 floor, 10 room space and took it over completely, and built some amazing things too. This show’s kind of like a visit to the more classical, traditional, elegant approach to fine art as a craft, and as an exhibiting experience. I’ve made some very delicate, intimate dildos. [Laughter from installing interns] Another piece called ‘Punch in the Face,’ [motions toward ballerina painting with punched out face], and that’s about emotion. Another piece is called ‘Ballerina’ and it’s an ode to Rodin because I love that man’s work. Even though I’m using ballerinas and Degas is famous for ballerinas I’m more attracted to the idea of ballerinas, and in a sculptural sense the idea of Rodin. They’re very separate, but I’m aware of the historical reference in art.
How do comic book illustrators figure into your practice? I can see a bit of Frank Miller in your work.
Obviously, I’ve been influenced by comic books, just with my contemporary mythology series, That’s from when I was a child reading them. Sure—Frank Miller’s Batman, Sin City, 2000AD … but honestly my favorite quote about inspiration comes from Chuck Close. He said, ‘Inspiration is for beginners—the rest of us just get to work.’ Or something like that. Honestly I try to keep people and images and aesthetics out of mind.
Have you had a chance to meet or work with him in New York?
Yes, actually—I work in the same print shop and place editions in New York as Chuck, and we’ve met and hung out.
As far as other personal heroes go, you’ve mentioned Ned Kelly, and you’ve created work about him.
I’ve done several pieces around Ned Kelly. I’m very interested in the idea of the outlaw. I’m fascinated with criminology. Back when I was working around Ned Kelly I was painting portraits of Chopper Reed, who’s kind of seen as the contemporary Ned Kelly in Australia right now. With the movie about him, you may have been informed. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the bush ranger and also Ned Kelly.
Both of those stories have had vastly different cinematic takes—the Yahoo Serious Ned Kelly comedy, and the Eric Bana Chopper film.
There’s the Mick Jagger film about Ned Kelly set in Australia. I believe it was made in the 60s or 70s. I’m familiar with all of it. Look, I have a problem with authority. Coming from Australia which is a country founded by 334 prisoners, something like 60 prison guards, 14 sheep, 2 cows, you know … I guess it resonates with my larrikin nature to have a problem with authority, and I’m echoing that. I’m not exactly sure. I was raised by the youth and all the boys at the skate park in Australia in the peripheral of parental guidance.
Does skateboarding still figure heavily into your day to day practice?
Absolutely, it’s a discipline, it’s a lifestyle. It’s like painting pictures or editing films or cooking for that matter, it’s just about practice. I just went out to the Baker Warehouse, skated around with Andy Reynolds, it was cool.
Have you been out to the old 6th Street Warehouse?
Yeah—I’ve skated that ramp and painted down there. I’ve got paintings up around the Brooklyn projects as well.
Back to the subject of role models—you’ve had endorsements from Paris Hilton. How does she fit into your subject matter?
She was a bit fun—that was pretty funny. My fascination with role models, or the lack of guidance with a lot of role models that I grew up with, is all based on context. She definitely fits in with my whole topic of misguided role models.
You have children now yourself. Does that impact who you choose to portray as a misguided role model?
We all have children, you know. We’re all the sons of the world, the students of the world. I’ve always had children. I’m definitely a child of the world.
Do see yourself as a role model especially in terms of a public figure and a street artist?
I don’t pay much attention to it, no not at all. I’m more of a bad influence really. I set out to make amazing things from nothing that have the potential to echo for an eternity.
Have you as a street artist ever been in serious trouble?
Well, I have many names when operating in the street, some names that you may know me for online, and other names that nobody knows me for, and yeah I’ve been to jail in Brooklyn twice for graffiti; I’ve been to jail in London and Australia for graffiti. For ‘street art,’ not so much. One time I went to jail and watched a guy vomit on heroin naked for six hours in the dark. I’ve been chased, I’ve been pinned to fences. I’ve been scratched. Fallen. Catched. Drawn. On. In. Usually at this point I say there’s a problem with homelessness. Look, there’s nothing sadder than to see a weak skinny woman on the side of the road while someone else takes a shit in the middle of the road. Something’s got to happen, when you’re sitting here making these paintings about beautiful women or aggressive superheroes and drawing comments to role models, and what’s here for the youth or will the world even end, you feel a bit helpless because you’re not helping children in a third world country with an eye defect or their hands getting cut off in Africa. There’s a problem out there, and I’m not really sure how to fix it. I just think that if the drains at least—or under the bridges at least—could be given back to people … I’m into space, I’m into public intervention, and I’m into functional planning. I think the authority needs to let up—of course with graffiti, but also, in general with space. There’s too much control—I’ve got an issue with control.
How do you differentiate your street art work from your graffiti work?
In my mind I have something called ‘Multiple Creative Personality Disorder,’ and that’s something I’ve manifested from being involved in this industry, or whatever you call this thing, for over a decade, and where I’ve needed to learn to communicate with a whole series of different communities of artists. I differentiate it in several ways, in graffiti I have a different name. I have a different tolerance for questions, a different tolerance for things, and I have a different attitude toward space and how I conduct space visually and how I apply myself to the visual landscape. It’s public intervention.
In your hometown of Brisbane you had a commissioned piece that was buffed over by the city council in 2010. Did you ever reach any kind of resolution?
No, not at all. It was a gift to the city, and they painted over it. I haven’t been back to paint anything around there since. You know—what do you do about that? That’s why I moved out of there to New York in 2002. I go back and forth a lot, I’m always around Australia, I’ve got a lot of love for Australia. When your craft gets beaten down you turn to other means. Now I just bomb that city with other names.
Do you have other street artists or fine artists you enjoy collaborating with? I know you’ve worked with Banksy’s print studio, and also with fellow Australians Ben Frost and Kill Pixie.
Absolutely. I enjoy working with WK—I’ve painted portraits of him, he’s painted portraits of me. I enjoy working with Banksy’s print studio, getting constructive criticism from the boss man. Here in Los Angeles, I enjoy working with The Seventh Letter. I enjoy working with Retna, I enjoy being around other creatives in peer energy that’s more than just a Facebook page or an unfacable ‘like.’ These are communities of people I get down with. In Melbourne like The Everfresh Crew, and also fine artists like Scott Redford. I’m really involved in the academic side of things — I’ve got my work collected by the National Gallery of Australia. It’s about a community, and that’s what I get out of traveling the world and working with people.
ANTHONY LISTER OPENS THUR., FEB. 23, AT NEW IMAGE ART GALLERY, 7920 SANTA MONICA BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 6PM / FREE / ALL AGES. NEWIMAGEARTGALLERY.COM