Anthony Lister barrels into the Theme office wearing dark faded jeans and a black v-neck T-shirt under a blue and red flannel short-sleeve button-down. Generous specks of white paint are splattered on both his black skate shoes and fingernails. A half-empty pack of Marlboro Reds peaks through his shirt pocket. Bare skin shows through between his pants and shoes. At times he speaks in clipped thoughts, almost as if by the time he gets to the end of one sentence his mind is already launching into the next, orphaning the first mid-delivery.
THEME: Where did you grow up?
Anthony Lister: I grew up and lived in Brisbane, Australia until I traveled, when I was 22, to New York. In Brisbane I had been delivering pizzas, working at a butchers, and pushing trolleys since I was 10. I got my first job at 10 and I didn’t not have a job until I was like 22, when I started painting these things in Brisbane as a commission. And I earned like $4,000.00, which is the most money I’d ever had in my life, seriously.
Prior to leaving for New York, I was in University and had a six-month-old baby. It took a leap of faith to spend that $4,000.00 to come here [to New York]. I left money in Australia for my partner and child and I came here on an adventure tip. I’ve treated it like gambling—not that I gamble with anything that’s risky—it’s risk management when you’re gambling on yourself. They say luck favors the brave, or something? But the harder I work, the luckier I get.
Tell us about your experience with mentors.
When I finished University I knew I needed to meet people from the outside world in order to venture there, to have a reason to go to New York. An artist named Max Gimblett came to my town, I found an affinity with his work and we got along, so I moved to New York to do a mentorship with him. I assisted him and met other artists, and the education continued through my peers like with Brock Enright, who is involved in the reality video games project that you can see on CNN in 2002. Up until the Wooster Collective, it just continued on, the sort of harboring of mentors that you just gain through life. They’re not always older than you and they don’t always do what you do, but you take samples of information and education.
That first mentorship, did you have to stretch canvas and fetch coffee?
All of that. Make coffee, stretch canvas, be there on time, go get the paper. I was stamping his special stamps on his limited edition books, you had to stamp them straight or it wasn’t cool. It’s not a fun, easy thing to do, to go work with a professional artist. You learn very quickly if what you’re doing is the way they want it to be done. But that’s a hands-on assistant type thing, while mentoring is more about embracing somebody’s career and seeing how they can better themselves and then slowly maneuvering towards that. It’s all based on positivity.
I read that you grew up skateboarding in Australia in the ’80s.
Yeah, I saw (Tony) Alva when I was nine, and I met Tony Hawk when I was eight, I got a photo with him. I met him again in ’94 and he signed it. My older brother and I had all the videos but we didn’t have the boards. We’d get blank boards and draw graphics on them because we didn’t have the money to buy the real thing. I’ve skated for about 22 years now.
Did the culture of skate art influence you?
The artist for the Bones Brigade really rocked my world, man. You know, Caballero’s designs. I know Lance Mountain did his own design, but really, Tony Hawk and shit, that sort of stuff is like being into
kung fu and then just arriving in some Shaolin temple where they’re fuckin’ bouncing on their heads. It’s some ill graphics, man. And I don’t know what it is, but it’s beautiful art to me. It’s so cliché to be this street artist skateboarder. I’m really just like fueling the stereotype, but what do you do? I mean it’s honest and that’s what I’ve tried to be for a long time.
Growing up, did your family support you being an artist?
I grew up with three brothers and a single mom, so it’s not like we were really supported in any way, outside of “Yeah, good, do it, stay out of my hair.” Because my mom was working and shit. I turned into the artist, my older brother was a surfer, and my younger brother, he’s a painter as well. We all did our own things in conjunction with each other and loving skateboarding. In the same way that I’ve sampled mentors, from a very early age I didn’t have a real steady father role model. So, my mother’s boyfriends and shows like Three Men and a Baby, I would see as ideas of how to be a grown-up man. And I shut out the ones that were negative because they didn’t make sense. I basically built myself up on choosing what I would—not so much emulate, but the energy that I would do these things in.
Any thoughts on the Australian art scene?
I think it’s really strong at the moment. I think there’s a lot going on in Sydney, and Melbourne, and Brisbane. I’m really fond of many artists who work down there. Kill Pixie’s from Australia, but he’s in L.A. now. Ben Frost, very awesome artist, Adam Cullen, Curin McMaster, Magnus McTavish, Edward Lee, all very awesome artists.
Who were some of your heroes growing up?
Tony Hawk, for his skateboarding creativity. Artistically, from an early age I was into Arthur Streaton, an Australian expressionist, only because [his art] was on the placemats that my grandmother would serve my food on. And I would look at his work and really like it. She was a painter and had a studio right next to the kitchen and I’d always smell her oil paints. I remember her just feeding us with butcher’s paper and she would just go, “do that.” Not because she wanted us to do it, just because she knew that that would keep us out of her hair. And that’s how that all happened.