HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS?
Director: Eddie Martin
Runtime: 86 mins.
Australian release date: 5 April 2018
Previewed at: Palace Central Cinemas, Sydney, on 15 March 2018.
Have You Seen The Listers? is not so much a documentary about making art and the artistic process but, rather, about the cost of dedicating your life to art, and I don’t mean in dollars and cents. Eddie Martin’s film closely examines the toll that is paid not only by the artist but also by those who surround him or her, who support them in their dedication (although perhaps fixation or obsession are better descriptions). As with Martin’s previous documentaries concentrating on people driven by their artistic and sporting demons - Jisoe, Lionel and All This Mayhem - this is a warts and all portrait that lays bare the soul of its subject.
Brisbane-born Anthony Lister was one of the pioneers of the stencil and street art movement in his home city before he moved to New York in 2003, taking his wife, high-school sweetheart Anika, and young family with him. Inspired by his love of comics, super-heroes and an admiration of the hand-drawn line, he was naturally attracted to the streets and the ‘canvases’ of blank walls, thus incurring the wrath of the good burghers of Brisbane. So it was no surprise that the family packed up and left for NYC, plus it was the home of his mentor, NZ artist Max Gimblett. After a period of intense activity there, he emerged as an artist with a burgeoning reputation and the ability to create both ‘low’ and ‘high’ art, either on the streets or in the studio. Before long, he was exhibiting in all the major art centres of the world but all of this, the work, the travel and the fame, took him further away from his true love, Anika, and his growing family and soon Anthony was partying as hard as he was working, leading to a breakdown in his marriage and estrangement from his children.
You have to admire Lister’s honesty. Over the years he had recorded thousands of hours of footage of his family’s life and, when he was approached by Martin, he readily handed it all over to the documentarian. The director says, “After spending time getting to know Anthony - observing how he and his world operated - he presented me with a mountain of personal hard drives. As I began the task of trawling through twelve terabytes of personal archives, I discovered Anthony had been obsessively capturing his life, family and career on a uniquely personal scale.” It’s a credit to Martin and his editor, Johanna Scott that this vast amount of material has been whittled down to a very personal story on a very human scale. Lister’s voice-over commentary of the vision of his life is often wistful and quite melancholy in part, as the artist looks back over his career with a somewhat more mature eye. There’s also a sense of regret as he realises he has become an absent dad, just as his own father was with him. Anika and he married at a very young age and started a family not long after and, as so often happens in early marriages, she had to grow up a lot faster than he did - while he was focussing on his art, Anika was focussing on their children. Little wonder then, that they grew apart and it’s a credit to Anika that it took as long as it did.
Have You Seen The Listers? is an intriguing film that’s more an anthropological piece than an art doco. It’s revealing in part and yet, oddly, with so much material available and so much openness from the subject, somehow you come away unsure whether or not you really have seen the Listers.