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Interview: Anthony Lister

Juxtapoz // Thursday, 10 Apr 2008

How do you feel your talk went?

I thought everyone would sit there, plain-faced and say, ‘you’re right guy, you’re not a public speaker but I feel like they kind of helped me a lot, asking questions. But, I think…yeah, when I got on stage, they liked what I did a lot and that’s what’s important.

What did you prepare for your talk?

I just had a bunch of photos of paintings that best represent my work now and I got a bunch of photos of friends and lifestyle stuff so people could get an idea of my inspiration. And then I got different files of media stuff; I had some backup videos in case I got really lost, which I did.
That’s just how I run my computer when I’m chillin’ with my mom.

How did you first get involved with Semi-Permanent?

I just got an email one day from Andrew (Johnstone), who organizes it and he basically just asked me to be speaker and I was supremely flattered because, I’ve know about this thing forever and I always come down. Never attended the actual conference but always went to the parties.
So I was like, ‘what, you want me to speak? Dude, famous people talk there, international people talk there.’
And, I was just like, ‘Yes, of course.’ So I made sure I was here for it.

If you could have your audience take away one thing from your talk, what would it be?

It would be that there is hope for these people on this little island who feel like their little people on a little island. I guess America is just a big, beautiful place full of opportunity and you just have to get out and get within it.
And I hope people are going to feel compelled to take my advise that money is only good for eating and traveling and they’re going to eat good food, have good dinners with friends and travel.

I’m off to Milan tomorrow for a show and then to LA for a show at New Image on the 26th of April and I’m pretty stoked about that and I hope that I get to eat a lot of good food along the way.

You have a very laid-back attitude, which was evident while you were onstage. Do you attribute that to your upbringing or have you acquired it by doing what you want and creating art?

There have been times in my life when I felt I needed to prove myself to other people but these days I work for me and I want to just be me so I honed into trying to be comfortable just being myself. I guess it’s all just growing up and growing in as well, like an actor completely absorbed in it. So the questions and the answers come really naturally because I’m constantly thinking about them and thinking about new ways to do what I want to do and question what I do at all.

Was there a time when you made a decision to be a painter above all else?

Well, it was always knew it’s what I wanted to do but if I could register a point where I thought it was actually possible, it was probably when I didn’t go to work one day for pizza delivery when I was in university and my kid was like two months old and I was like, “You know, that’s the last time I’m ever going to hate work again.” I had a bunch of jobs ahead of me, things that I had to do. Back then I would get emails and phone calls for things that today, I would pass on but at that time, I was really excited and it just got better. It’s just been a real fun, big journey.

ghost brigade, mixed media on canvas - 140cm x 140cm - 2007

Were there any really poignant moments along the way that have informed yourself or your work?

Yeah, there have but none of them have been so certain that I can take them for granted. I’m always so sure that this could all be over so I treat every moment like it’s supremely important and like it’s my last.
I’m only as good as my last decision and I’m only as good as my last production.

Has your process changed at all?

I always have sketchbooks on me, nothing is really ever planned. I usually have ideas of – these days – subjects that I like to use, based on overall concepts. Like an upcoming show is based on the subject of super villains so I’m focused on that.
It’s pretty random and I like to keep it pretty random. There isn’t much structure in my practice to feel limited by; I try to switch it up to feel challenged. So I push myself out of my comfort bracket while still being able to paint.

tigra got a talk show, mixed media on canvas - 2007

Do you embark on any collaboration with other artists as part of your practice?

I do but not for my personal practice. I do it more for community type projects. I like to interact with other people who are doing what I do and if making work together comes up, it’s sweet when it happens. And that’s just talking about work; an artist that I enjoy talking about making art and the process is Ben Frost. He’s an experienced artist that I went to uni with.
That’s a big part of my practice. But, physically it gets done but I don’t put a lot of effort into the end product at all. I don’t have complete power over it. It’s something I’ve had to deal with in my work.

Can you tell me about your relationship with Ben Frost and your work with Stupid Krap?

Ben and I have known each other for many years and I’ve always admired his work so much. When we were at uni, he was like the ‘god painter’. This was before I even knew about Ron English.
So, a couple years ago, just before I moved to the states, he was talking to me about starting up a print company which I thought was a great idea and other friends were doing it like Faile Collective in New York where they were getting people from their peer group. Galleries, for the longest time have been in the peripheral of an artist’s practice; they earn money without really being a part of an artist’s practice.
The thing that I love about Super Krap is that it’s built by artists, for artists and its making good work.
Another thing that I love about it is that they pay attention to who they give their work to. In London, people are just buying and selling shit up, it’s going crazy. So, I like that they’re sensitive to that issue.
In a business sense, they’re really forward and in a human sense, I can talk to Ben and Madeline (Ben’s partner) about everything.

Can you tell me about the piece that you did for last night’s Super Krap show, Kids Today?

The first series of three was like a Spiderman a Robin and a Bat Girl and I just really love those pieces, they’re a part of my contemporary mythology, how we see heroes. Coming out of my criminal paintings, I thought about what the polar opposite was of these criminals and in the real world it would be the police and in the mythological world that I like, it was super heroes. So then I started playing with anonymity and asking, ‘Who has power here?’ And then graffiti came to me and I was like, ‘Wow, all of these graffiti artists are like super heroes. No one knows who they are but everyone knows who they are.’
And then I did this, Ani as Robin, smoking kind of a Juno-type teenage girl having a cigarette while she’s still dressed as a superhero. Also, the idea of being a sidekick or an understudy; how much does an understudy get? How much is their worth? How much do they even care?

Mental Health Mags, mixed media on canvas, 170cm x 170cm, 2006

Do the questions that arise from your paintings of super heroes represent your views of society?

Absolutely, and about having an issue with authority figures, school and things like having a short attention span. They have all been major questions in my life; why aren’t I being entertained enough? Why can’t I get what I want?
But, actually, I’m not asking for answers and I’m not trying to give any resolution. I’m just interested in asking these questions of others.

I enjoy and work really hard at what I do. I feel that I have a responsibility for every mark I make and I feel that if I can keep that up, maybe I can keep painting forever!

spiderwoman1, mixed media on canvas - 170cm x 170cm - 2007

Do you still do any street art?

Occasionally, if there is a project going on but it’s not something that I proactively work at as part of self-promotion or street fame.
It’s actually just fun for me. That’s the sort of collaboration that I like, just sitting around, having a paint. But I’m tired of going out in the winter, in the rain with buckets. But who knows when that’ll come back; maybe that will be really fun again one day.

Can you tell me about the impact that being responsible for your art as well as for a family has on you?

Absolutely, I was painting things that my children could have nothing to do with so I wrestled with how to integrate my practice of painting into my life because I want to keep this shit going on forever. And that’s purely why I got off on doing these particular paintings. I have a six year old boy and a five year old girl and they’re mad intelligent, creative, and super fun to be around and that’s my life.
So, I definitely integrate them into my work. I don’t want to have two lives.
My parents being divorced and never talking when I was five; it was like two different worlds. I don’t want element of that in my life at all.

Do they give you feedback?

Yeah, and it’s raw, dude. Completely raw! And I hope they continue to do that.

Do they travel with you?

Yeah, they’re my kids. We’re lucky enough to have a nanny with us at the moment that is helping us out. They’re visiting family in Brisbane and then tomorrow we are going from here to Milan.
I have to take them traveling because if I didn’t, I would spend 10 days in London and it feels like a lifetime. You really start losing yourself.


See more of Lister's work at

Interview by Alana Armstrong.




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