Anthony Lister is a world-renowned artist from Australia. He lives a very rock n roll life as he trots the globe. He really nearly didn’t make it to London for this interview as he got arrested back home for wilful damage just before he flew over.
Was it a bit of a kick in a teeth that you were recently arrested in your home town of Brisbane by the same council that have commissioned you to paint walls? I thought you might not make it here.
I’m not in jail! And that’s a good thing. It was a bit of a surprise, you never know what council is in or out of activity at the time, but who knows what they really want me for? I don’t know.
You’ve always been known as a bit of a bad boy of the art world. Do you like being called that or have you moved on a bit?
There always needs to be a villain and I don’t always necessarily want to be the villain, but I definitely don’t want to be the victim. I don’t think anyone is a victim of my villainous ways. I see myself as a superhero and a freedom fighter. What I don’t want to be is the martyr of some other situation. I don’t want to be the martyr that has to go down for everybody. I enjoy the fine lines that I tread and try not to dance openly on.
Are you an angry painter?
I don’t know if I’ve ever been an angry painter and I guess it comes from watching films of artists like De Kooning and Rothko when you realise that these other painters needed to wait until their mid-sixties until they could have their one man shows, so I don’t think it would fair for me to ever be the angry or bitter painter. I’ve seen friends that are involved in graffiti become the angry painter through the discourse of seeing people rise around them. I don’t see a reason for me to project being an angry painter or feel it innately in my being.
Has your art process changed at all in the last five years?
My process has definitely changed as far as knowing my mediums and what’s going to last over time. I guess the excitement changes when you get used to the waves and rhythm of how things manifest. Maybe I care less these days, and when I say that I don’t mean put in less effort I mean I’m aware of the ephemeral nature of the craft.
All street art will get painted over eventually, but do you think people purposely paint over your pieces just because it’s yours?
I’d hate to think that my work motivates others just to paint over it but I’m sure that exists out there. I used to say that as long as people are painting then I was happy but maybe I don’t feel that way so much anymore. I try to cultivate new spots and of course I’ve painted over others and others have painted over me. I did try to work with different mediums recently to make a paint that would beat the buff, it’s a combination of different building materials, but really bronze is the only way to truly decorate the apocalypse and I feel that by making bronze works, even though I don’t leave them in the street, it helps me deal with the fact that I am just this entity of nothingness fading out in history.
How do you out run hangovers? You’re known for having a very fun time in multiple countries. Does the jet lag cancel out the hangover
It definitely gets harder as you get older, I’m an old man now! I remember talking to Ron English one time here in London. I was painting walls every day and Ron said to me “it catches you…” I didn’t really fathom what he was talking about but five years on from that conversation and 15 years into doing this constantly, it does start to catch you. Ben Eine’s on the right track when he told me “less excess and more conscious activation of energy.” Up until now I was too busy holding on to be hungover but yeah, the hangover is waiting to grab you and pull you right over the side of that dark bar.
Photo: Tom Medwell