2017
2016
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010
2009
2008
25th November - 18th December
Memories Not Included
Anthony Lister

 
WE CAN BLEED HEROES
Anthony Lister’s paintings and public installation works are marked by a stylistic dissolution of the normally hard-edged icons of the everyday heroic. In his painting, name-brand figures mix with shadowy members of the social underbelly and everything is indistinct from the slippery world in which it makes its way. Lister’s main motifs in recent work have been superheroes and figures from Pop culture, where fragments of Spongebob Squarepants and mashed with Yoda or an overweight Batman or steroid-pumped transgender Wonder Woman fight for space. You might as likely be to see the Smurfs on an acid trip on a tie-dyed t-shirt; a bent Darth Vader; a trumpet-playing baboon or Skeletor from He-Man. In his quicker works, amorphous faces collapse into their own sketched out supports. Lister is used to producing these more rapid images for the street, and this background remains vital to his more studied painting work.
Lister’s studio painting practice is resolutely Post-Pop, utilizing high-key colour and visuals grabbed from the high-concept world of comics and cartoons, the high-impact characters that have compelled Pop artists for decades. His subjects are heroes of desire, personifications of pure power upon which we have all projected our own dreamlife – all-conquering, immune to pain, above the base impulses of common humankind. And yet, in his hero-works Lister brings the icon down to Earth, and sets them to play in a broken and debased fashion.
Lister has been an active participant in the street art scene for some time now, and although his aesthetic clearly is informed by the wildstyles of the 1980s and the fluoro-trash of the 1990s with a little 2000s mashup thrown in for good measure, his approach to the image owes a debt to an earlier period: the 1950s. Specifically, the work of early Pop artist Larry Rivers. Rivers gave us the canvas as a space for the simultaneous disintegration and rehabilitation of the contemporary image. One of the things Rivers gave to post-Pop painting was the great equivalence of motifs: Napoleon, a note of currency, a seated portrait, or a map of Africa were all given the same democratic, surgical treatment. Taken apart and reformed in paint; with drips, stencilled text labels, melting faces and blocky pigment-structures preserving the image in perpetual half-presence.
Like Rivers, Lister’s paintings seem to revel in the nebulous quality of applied paint – its ability to break down the figurative image into its constituent parts, lacking definite form or limit. The structure of Lister’s paintings is cloudy, misty, hazy; yet not impressionistic. His images seem formed in a vortex, with gravitational pull smearing the bodies on the canvas. There is something of the dirty remix in Lister, like a visual Warp Records b-side – the smears and paint stains of his looser works seem tuned into digitality but paradoxically, they execute themselves in dry analogue brushstrokes.
In this sort of painting there is a slippage in the image that refers directly to painting’s ability to reform the signs of everyday life; of the mainstream. To reform in the sense of reshape, stretch, fold, make liquid, but not to reform as in to rehabilitate. A Pop aesthetic can tend toward the easily digestible: birght and common images. Good post-Pop painting will avoid this rehabilitation. The word itself comes from the Latin, re- "again" + habitare "make fit," from habilis "easily managed, fit." Rehabilitation is what happens to criminals, addicts. Lister’s works categorically do not make the imagery fit. In the depiction of faces, limbs and appendages, chaos reigns. The speed of painting on the street underwrites the pace of the work done in the studio. Speed leads to collision, to the mash-up of icons. Lister, who has spent much time in both the US and Australia, even draws national characters as source material: Captain America in a range of paintings, a red lion rampant in another, which subtly reminds us of the leonine logo of the Australian car manufacturer Holden. Reproduced in the paintings, these figures drift away from their heroic origins, brought down to the level of Homer Simpson or Porky Pig.
Photographs of the studio show Lister producing the superhero paintings in a Rorschach relation, then seemingly broken off and shown separately. This mirror image may well be important for understanding the compositional logic of the paintings, as each is inscribed as a difference, a movement away from the other. This pull results in pinched faces, blurred paint, hybrid identities. Some of Lister’s pop-culture mutants have their faces resolved while the rest of the body and field is smoothed, fluid, even orgiastic. This reminds us of the tension here: media identity is fixed, but the figure of desire is not. And it is the desire to see these clinical unsullied heroes debased in the painting which drives these works. The primping overstuffed Wonderman, the obese Batman, the crucified Captain America – all are images of excess and all are marked by blurred faces and disintegrating features or limbs, with bloated stomachs visible and faces clad in bird masks. Smeared, stained, fallen.
The Lacanian film theorist Slavoj Zizek has reminded us at length that, following Lacan, it is the stain on the image that draws us in, that is the vortex of desire which captivates us and perverts our relationship to the image. The stain calls forth the gaze; the stain disrupts the 'natural' order and it eroticises the image -- makes it fascinating. Other tricksters of Pop and popular art have known this same game, and in this vein, alongside the elemental influences of Street art in Lister we also witness echoes of the bright palette and muddled sleaze of 1970s alternative American animation. The overlays and dissolves in Lister’s paintings are cut from the same cloth as those of someone like Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat), who in the 1970s produced a very adult universe with a stylized realism virtually unprecedented in animation. Bakshi’s techniques of bent and fisheye camera perspectives, contributed to a pervading seedy atmosphere of his world, and here the element of sleaze, of desire gone mad and abject, is ever present.
This is the voyeurism which now has become commonplace (a la TMZ) refracted back on old media and low-tech – Lister’s work referenced the messy ink of newspapers and the glitches of analogue TV. The overarching question of the work seemed to be: How do we project onto that media surface? How do we find pleasure in the viewing of the endless media cycle? In a way, Lister’s painting of Paris Hilton (herself a sort of Google superhero) is the apogee of this theme in Lister’s practice so far (the work being made after an encounter with the icon herself). If you think about it, superheroes are often ‘official’ member of society: reporters, philanthropists, scientists or bat-winged honorary members of City government. "Jesus may as well be Superman, God is better understood as The Force”, Lister says in one of his artist statements – but if media is our global religion, surely our daily celebrated heroes are the new pantheon. The traditional guard of Superheroes are old news, haggard, failed. With Lister’s brush, at the scale of a traditional portrait or history painting as opposed to the hermetic rigid line of the comic page, they can be made real – like celebrities pursued under the harsh light of TMZ paparazzi, we make them bleed, we watch them die. Like comic fanboys at the dawn of the genre, we desire this narrative – we want more and more and more. And what makes a great hero story? Obsession; death; manipulation; the media and the mask – it is no coincidence it reads like Michael Jackson’s life story.
DOUGAL PHILLIPS