Contemporary painter and graffiti artist Anthony Lister recently moved to studios in Bondi, the new digs are where he takes some time out to discuss his work, Australia’s creeping graffiti laws and his plans for the future.
“I arrived here two days ago,” says Lister.
“I’d been living in Darlinghurst, my lease was up and I thought rather than buying somewhere and living poor, I would rent somewhere and act my wage.
“So I came to Bondi and now I’m looking at the beach instead of the junkies.”
Lister has exhibited in galleries around the world and his street art inhabits cities throughout Australia, the UK and America. He questions whether those tasked with legislating against graffiti know the difference between art and graffiti.
“I’m not sure whether the people involved in the destruction of graffiti – or the legislation of the power against graffiti – are educated on what is art and what is graffiti,” he says.
“Art these days is really breaking down the boundaries of perceived value and maybe that’s what they’re afraid of.”
A recent amendment to the Graffiti Control Act proposes to criminalise those who chalk on footpaths or in public parks, whether it is adults chalking rainbows or children drawing hopscotches. Lister warns that such laws would erode Australia’s culture.
“It’s just one more nail in the coffin, which is the culture that Australia is living in right now,” he says.
“The creative culture is dying thanks to legislation like this.
“These people are time marauders, they’re stopping our future generation from being educated – would the people in caves tell other cave artists not to draw on the cave?” he asks.
Lister believes the words ‘No War’ – daubed on one of the sails of the Sydney Opera House in the lead up to the Iraq War – should have remained and emphasises it was a message to be internationally proud of.
“Australia would be a different place if ‘No War’ was still written on the Opera House,” he says.
“If Australia was owned by the Aborigines they wouldn’t have got up there and cleaned that off.
“Tourists would have acknowledged that when going to the Opera House – that message was something to be internationally proud of.”
Lister was born in Brisbane and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in 2001 before travelling to New York in 2003 where he was mentored under the auspices of New Zealand artist Max Gimblett.
Lister’s art draws influence from various areas and genres including pop art, expressionism and contemporary youth culture and he explains the use of popular iconography in his works, including Superman and Darth Vader.
“I like to use analogies in my work, whether they’re ambiguous or literal,” he says.
“I like to use these characters – these contemporary icons of our culture – as metaphors for contemporary mythology.
Lister continues, “I feel like mythology – historic mythology and religious iconography – is being replaced with cultural iconography [in our society].
“So I see Superman as God – with all correct morals and a good heart – and I see Darth Vader as the devil – I think I have more impact talking to my children and my peers in doing so.”
Lister explains how he is continually learning the limits of his art and describes how frequently he has overworked his paintings.
“I’m constantly learning that I’m taking things too far,” he says.
“Occasionally I get it right and it’s perfect – but every so often I’ve wrecked the best paintings I’ve ever made by continuing to paint on them and enjoying them so much.”
Organisers of SCOPE Miami asked Lister to head the art fair later this year after attending his show in Miami where he turned his gallery into a strip club.
“I go to SCOPE Miami in December… which is really flattering and an amazing accomplishment,” he says.
“The organisers flew down from New York to see my show at my gallery in Miami where I turned it into a strip club with the flick of a switch.
“It was beautiful describing the difference and similarities between strippers and ballerinas and to draw relationships to highbrow and lowbrow, graffiti and fine art, tagging and the destabilisation of perceived values and judgement systems in people’s minds.”
Lister says he would be spending more time out of Australia next year with shows planned in London, New York and LA.
“Next year I’ll be focusing more on America and Europe,” he says.
“I’ve got a Lazarides show, a New York show and I think an early LA show – so even though I’ve signed a year lease here in Bondi – I’ll probably only be here for the next couple of days and then I’ll never come back.” (AH)