Creativity Without Boundaries, The Anthony Lister Interview
Known as an advocate for the freedom of visual speech, Australian street graffiti artist Anthony Lister is on a mission to gift his art to the streets without persecution, to explore creativity without boundary, and to continually evolve as an artist. We teamed up with Lister on a collaborative collection which explores the themes of money and corruption as it relates to the modern cyber state. Coinciding with this release, Lister will be hitting the road for the Anthony Lister Art Experience where he will be exhibiting new pieces of work created specifically for each event.
VOLCOM AUSTRALIA’S HEAD CREATIVE, KIMBERLEY REYNOLDS, HAD A CHAT WITH LISTER ABOUT THE COLLECTION, SKATEBOARDING, VANDALISM VS ART, AND THE PROCESS IN HIS CREATIVE PRACTICE.
When did you first take to painting the streets?
LISTER I was 19 when I started painting electrical boxes around my hometown. I ended up painting over 100 of these boxes over the course of four years.
What and where was the first piece?
LISTER The piece from memory was a painting of clowns holding spray cans. Location was Brisbane, Australia.
For you initially, was the act of painting in the streets equally attractive for the protest of creative freedom in your landscape as well as the exhibition of your work being seen by an unsuspecting audience?
LISTER Honestly, I was most interested in my mum and nanna seeing my work in the wild and watching their reactions.
You were quoted in 2014 by an Australian publication, Brisbane’s Weekend Edition, saying, “I’m a freedom fighter. I’m fighting for the freedom of visual speech.” How does it feel like it’s progressing since this statement in 2014?
LISTER Well, as long as men and women, boys and girls are being sent to prison for acts of creativity, the struggle continues. So, long story short, not much has changed at all. I guess, I, on the other hand, have progressed greatly in my articulation of defining the problems and developing strategies in which changes could be implicated.
You have been commissioned in your street art to paint huge pieces for various commercial clients. How does the emotional or creative feeling differ when painting these pieces over personal and illegal outdoor work?
LISTER They don’t change at all. I always do my best work. I feel that “you are only as smart as your last decision and only as good as your last production.” Whomever I am working with, for or against, I put in the most I can to achieve my goal.
Speaking of commissions vs illegal work, earlier this year you were sentenced to community service after facing charges of vandalism by the Brisbane City Council. A council that has previously commissioned you to create works within its cityscape. The case received a lot of media attention in Australia and worldwide for its odd imbalance and self-deeming sense of declaring art vs vandalism. One comment I loved was from filmmaker Eddie Martin on Twitter who noted, “Odd way to treat one of your best cultural assets.” How do you as an artist process this mixed message from authority?
LISTER Yeah, well it sucks that in this day and age people are being sent to prison for acts of creativity, huh? I’m one of the lucky ones. Having said that, it ended up costing me $78K in lawyer fees, but I still have my integrity, and most importantly, my freedom.
The enormous scale pieces you do outdoors are just insanely large. Watching back some footage of you creating these is incredible. Wielding the extended roller the way you do must have taken some real practice. How much prelim work do you put into the composition plan before hitting these spaces and what’s the usual approach?
LISTER I always have a mental sketch before I begin, but that’s usually about it. In adventure painting, it is important not to burden ones self with expectations.
A lot of Australian artists at your level generally move overseas to bigger markets or art scenes. What keeps you in Australia?
LISTER It feels like I’m never in Australia. I actually love Australia, but then again I love America and Germany, too. I’ve kinda lived everywhere for a time. Life’s great!
It seems there is a real correlation between street art and skateboarding in terms of vandalism, creativity within your landscape, and freedom of expression vs law. Do they feel almost the same to you?
LISTER I agree. I believe it comes down to harvesting an audacity to embrace the freedom to express ones self creatively in the public arena.
I recently spoke to another Australian Volcom collaborator who was also raised in Brisbane, Gemma O’Brien, who I know you’ve worked alongside in the past. Gemma mentioned the real longing to work on a solo show and personal work after spending the majority of her time on commissioned work is to hone new skills, test herself and have no parameters. Do you feel the same longing after working on commissioned pieces?
LISTER Nah, not really. I keep busy on jobs in the street while also maintaining a constant studio practice. I understand what she means though. Making new work and keeping up a practice is like having a child: you can never give enough time or energy. It is the guilt that keeps on giving.
You’ve used imagery of dollar bills and skulls through your Volcom collaboration works. What do those symbols communicate for you?
LISTER Life, death, drugs, fucking, the city, being lost, respect, tragedy, strangers in the club, great tracks. SKULLS and money are like everything and nothing. Like grains of sand through the hourglass of time.
In the short film you made with us at Volcom, which was filmed in Sydney at your studio, you made a wonderful metaphor of the streets being the jungle, the animals and blank spaces in the wild being your art, and that you are both the hunter and the hunted within your jungle. Do you feel instinctual and primitive with your art and the means in which you need to go to create it? Is it driven by pure need and sense of survival?
LISTER A purity, yes. A sense of survival, no. I’m driven by forces greater than myself and I feel like I’m just a messenger working for the boss.
Do you have any strategies to avoid being hunted?
LISTER Yes. I don’t disrespect anyone. I use my intuition and senses of smell, hearing and sight to avoid the trappings of a material mindset.
When we were filming with you, we had the Volcom Skate Team in town and you’re friends with a few of them, which seems like a totally natural fit. Was it a pretty organic journey creating a collection with Volcom?
LISTER Yeah, for sure. I’ve been mates with heaps of them for years. When I was asked to create the collection, it was a super laid back and natural fit.
When we visited your studio, you showed us some very interesting bronze cast sculpture forms you were beginning to work with. You also seem to cross mediums like video, installations, as well as paint, charcoal and more traditional mediums. How important is it for you as an artist to keep expanding your process?
LISTER I do it to combat the boredom. I never really think about it like I’m expanding my practice. I just realize I want to make something and then learn how to make it along the way. Most of the time it’s a long journey full of trials and errors. There are many exciting and challenging learning curves when dealing with the fundamentals of alchemy.
What’s next for you?
LISTER So much crazy shit. I got this guy making a film that’s going to expose me for what I really am. He’s the guy that made that documentary, All This Mayhem, which is a dope film about a couple of skaters that ended up making and breaking themselves like a couple of legends. That’s going to take a while, but yeah, that and shows, jobs, travelling, life, all kinds of shit, man. Swipe left.
Could you list your top five outdoor pieces around the globe that people could check out? Let’s send them on a Lister hunt...
LISTER New York, Berlin, Paris, Melbourne, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Zealand, Bali, Hong Kong, Milan… Hold on, is that five? Damn, bro, I don’t even know what’s even still up, let alone where it is. But I do know that I loved every one of them more than the last one before I walked away with my clothes, face, and hands covered in paint, along with a photo.