20 August 2014

Anthony Lister on toilet democracy, living hard and what's new?

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae

I've done hundreds of interviews in my life, but none as strange as with Anthony Lister. He's somewhat of a deity in the street art realm. He's achieved international success and has, arguably, helped redefine the concept of low-fi art. I spoke to Lister, on loudspeaker, while he was driving, and navigating through traffic. I couldn't hear him very well, or sometimes make out what he was talking about. So here's how it went:

SE: What have you been up to recently?

AL: I've been traveling to New York and Paris. Now I'm back in Australia.

SE: I know you do travel around a lot. Do you feel like the different places you go to perhaps influence your practice?

AL: I guess everywhere influences my practice.

SE: I noticed recently you were talking about cleaning up graffiti. You might know in Queensland here we've got the 'Tag Them Back' campaign and I spoke the guys from Jugglers and stuff about it a while ago. And I was just wondering what your thoughts were on this kind of campaign against street art?

AL: I don't know what that campaign is about.... I don't know anything about that campaign. You want to talk to me about it? Are you an advocate for that shit?

SE: Basically it's about, they've got all these signs everywhere on the trains and everything and it's basically saying, 'if you see someone doing any kind of graffiti, you should report them'. And it's kind of got all these stereotypical portrayals of people vandalising things. And when I spoke to the guys from Jugglers they were pretty upset about it because they felt like it was perpetuating a pretty bad stereotype.

AL: Yeah exactly. Look Brisbane's just been all about stereotypes from the get go. 

SE: Is there anything you're working on at the moment in particular?

AL: What am I working on? I'm working on a bunch of paintings for a show in London...

SE: What's the themes throughout the paintings, if there is one?

AL: The themes there always about famous quotes from history - Martin Luther King, guided message, misguided men.... Even Chopper Read. There famous quotes that all make all this work out of it. I don't know, what am I interested in? I'm interested in freedom of visual speech, I think it's quite ironic and very contradictory of any governments to get rid of graffiti when the very act of them advertising it is graffiti. The sort of contradictory propaganda that goes on about creativity. I can't see anything more sickening than someone stealing someone else's fun from them. 

SE: Is there anything in this particular series that you're trying to get across or that you're focusing on?

AL: Well, yeah. Women in roller skates, shadow, reflection in mirrors. I'm interested in black rooms as much as Matisse was interested in red rooms... It's just a conversation about the history of our species. As far as the freedom of visual speech goes. It's part of the public intervention this visual public intervention. It's only been illegal for 30 years you know, our species has been alive on this earth for eight thousand years. So I don't know what we're talking about.

SE: Now this is something my photographer was really interested in, he wanted me to ask you about the kind of distinctive style that you use. And he particularly interested in the faces that you paint and he kind of wanted to know what was behind the face, and what led you to depict people in that way.

AL: I don't know. You should just put this online as a recording. Honestly, I don't know if you've looked at my work or anything. I don't know, have you read any interviews and shit that I've done before? Because I've kind of said a lot of this stuff before. I'll tell you what's behind the face, it's just more paint, it's just other faces. The faces change, you know. I don't make work that's pretty, I'm not interested in making things pretty, it's just about process you know. Things grow on you.

SE: What do you want to to talk about then?

AL: I'll talk to you about anything. I'll talk to you about new things. Let's talk about new things.

SE: Well what's new in your life, what are you interested in outside of your art?

AL: It's not about my life. Let's talk about the people... What's new in the world? Let's talk about legislation changes, let's talk about activating change. I'm very interested in activating change. Not that I have any power to do it. We're powerless people. You know what I do when I go to a public toilet? I write 'vote here' above the toilet roll. I mean, it's one devil or the other... It's got to start in education. We spend so much time at school. I just knew what needed to happen... Too many people are just living soft and partying hard. 

SE: So what do you want to see happen, what legislation are you interested in? What do you think needs to happen?

AL: I'm interested in land rights and culture. I'm not interested in sport... It's only interesting if you're interested, I guess. I'm not really even concerning myself with these things. It's just too sad, there's too many tragedies in the world. You know something's gone terribly wrong when a disaster is dressed as entertainment... You know something's gone terribly wrong when public art is dressed... when terror is dressed as public art. There's a car here in Sydney that's been crushed with a rock, and it's public art. Apparently, in a private public space. I don't know how that exists. This rock, and calling it art. In a lot third world countries right now they're war torn and children are dying at the hands of these pigs with weapons. They dress up a car here in Sydney and call it art. I mean Sydney's great... but it's got a leniency towards acts of public intervention, creatively. To put all that art and take some kid to court of give them jail for popping a tag on it, it's ridiculous.

SE: Is there anything else you want to add, is there anything you want to talk about, is there anything you want to get out there?

AL: No, not that I haven't said before. I didn't need to do this shit, but I said yes because I thought there'd be a new question. But it's alright... I'm not really sure what the world's going to get out of me being set up with reading about myself.

SE: Well I think a lot of people look up to you. Particularly in Queensland here. Come on, what have we got around? There's not many people saying they don't like sport, so you've certainly broken that mould.

AL: Awesome, I like it.

SE: Well you're legacy will be the only Queenslander who didn't like sport. Trust me, you're already my idol.

AL: Yeah baby. Have you seen my new book? I've got a new book out.

SE: Oh yeah? What's it all about?

AL: It's called 'Adventure Painter'. So I don't know if it's in book shops yet, but you can order it online. And it's a big hard cover book.

SE: Well good luck, thanks for chatting with me. And I'm sorry if I bored you with my questions.

AL: No no no, you didn't you didn't you didn't. You're great.

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