Anthony Lister hails from the lovely city of Brisbane, Australia, and recently relocated to Brooklyn. During his first trip to San Francisco, Lister installed a small series of paintings brilliantly titled Cracker Got Snapped by the Pops at Fifty 24SF gallery, a space that is part of the Upper Playground dynasty. A few years ago, I heard a rumor that Upper Playground -- a store best known for their artist-designed t-shirts and hoodies, was struggling to get by. Well, apparently they won the lottery, because they now have a gallery and two stores at the illustrious intersection of Fillmore and Haight Streets in San Francisco, another store in Portland, and a new one opening in London. Upper Playground is prolific and produces everything from films to furniture. Much of their merchandise is based on the work of notable urban artists such as Albert Reyes, Sam Flores, David Choe, and now Lister.
Lister often works with images of superheroes, but they aren't fighting crimes or saving damsels in distress. They're fallen, tied up or just plain downtrodden and vaguely abstracted, much like our childhood memories. The artist has also included distorted images of recognizable cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Toucan Sam in some of his past works as a commentary on societies in which a barrage of media is unavoidable. The majority of the works in the Cracker Got Snapped by the Pops collection don't contain Lister's usual iconography, but they maintain his veiled messages about contemporary culture.
The show at Fifty 24SF is cleanly laid out in the small space, which smells like fresh paint. One side hosts a large face painted directly on the wall by Lister and the opposite wall has an installation of small paintings on board. Using spray paint, water color and acrylics, Lister renders symbolic images, then coats them in shiny polyester resin -- a medium that never fails to add an alluring quality. There are three types of paintings -- some of daggers, some of faces wearing bandanas, and some of clumps of colorful creatures. They are numbered and categorized by only three titles -- Blades of Steel, New York City Kids, and Crackle Pops. The seventh in the Crackle Pops series was an image of a pants-less figure being attacked by the heads of a bird, a rabbit, and a dragon. Lister's style of illustration is unique and deserves a long look. The New York City Kids faces are blurred in such a way that you may think you're having a bout of double vision at first glance.
Along the back wall is an installation called Open Cases that looks like a poor man's Batman who has fallen flat on his face. The figure's cape is made of what looks like a shower curtain, and his black-gloved hands are handcuffed and attached to arms made of sticks. There is also a boxy black creature attached to the wall behind the collapsed hero. The mystery of Lister's work is intriguing. Did the figure on the wall kill batman? Does the title indicate that this crime is under investigation?
If you appreciate a symbiotic blend of cynicism, humor, and grim honesty, Cracker Got Snapped by the Pops will leave you wanting to see more of Lister's work. Check out his Web site and his interview on Fecal Face dot com to get your fix. In reading the interview, I learned that Lister loves to wear socks, and his favorite 1980's cartoon was He-Man. Apparently, the artist and I have some things in common.