An intimate, even unflinching study of the life and work of bigtime Australian street artist Anthony Lister, this is sometimes structured as a kind of crazy collage, rather like some of Lister’s work or indeed his life.
Beginning with a rapid-fire credits montage of what it apparently meant to be an Aussie in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (featuring glimpses of Bob Hawke, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, TV’s Fast Forward, top-loading video players and more) set to the tune of Choirboys’ Run To Paradise, we begin with Anthony in voiceover discussing his childhood and learn a lot in a short period of time.
He grew up in the stifling suburbs of Brisbane but knew he had to get out soon; his Dad shot through when he was a kid; he “lived on TV and 2 Minute Noodles” and adored the animated Spider-Man TV series; he always loved schoolmate Anika and wanted to marry her; and he got into drugs early (cue a photo of him tripping out on acid at his Year 12 formal).
Demonstrating his talent early and encouraged by his Mum and grandma, Anthony was permitted and paid by the government, at first, to paint phone boxes, and while his work was much loved the battle over what constitutes art and what is just ugly graffiti began. We also start to hear from Anika (she’s actually seen speaking to camera, unlike Anthony), and learn how they moved to New York with his growing family so that he could paint and make vital contacts.
His punishing schedule and his passion for drugs naturally led to alienation from her, even as he became more and more famous, and Lister and his kids (Kye, Lola and little Polly) are seen in snippets of family videos (some obviously taken on a mobile phone) where you can see the dark shift in how they interrelate. Soon he’s having prestigious shows in London, Los Angeles and Milan and making huge money — and he’s alone.
It’s a story we’ve heard before but the honest and upfront nature of Lister’s narration (he’d be the first to say he behaved like a bastard) keeps you watching, while director Eddie Martin imbues it all with a quietly powerful sense of regret and a sweetly Aussie melancholia. Eventually Anthony’s trying desperately to reconcile with Kye in particular, and we suddenly understand what the title means.
Rated MA. Have You Seen the Listers is in cinemas now.