Creative Dialogue

Anthony Lister finds a new canvas in Virtual Reality

To the sound of a live violin duo, Australian street artist Anthony Lister slides on his headset in front of 200 people and steps into a virtual reality canvas.

A screen behind the seemingly blinded man shows us in the ‘real world’ what Lister is doing in a virtual world of his own.

Frost Collective’s head of experiential Martin Hoegh-Guldberg interacts with Lister as he shows off characters he created earlier: a “flaming arm bionic superhuman” and a solar system that one day — Lister hopes — will allow him to push planets along a pre-plotted trajectory.

While Lister starts creating a ballerina — one of his trademark characters — people sip on Young Henrys beer and mingle around the interactive virtual reality and augmented reality stations, using their phones to be transported into curated worlds.

The scene looks bizarre, but only to the untrained eye. For professional ‘adventure painter’ Anthony Lister, this technology is destined to impact every area of our lives.

“The potential of this tool is massive, and it stretches across every industry as far as anything visual goes — which is pretty much everything.”

In this moment, we are living in Anthony Lister’s head, a man described as “one of Australia’s great modern artists,” with celebrated exhibitions in Milan, New York and his homebase in Sydney. His pieces hang on the walls of celebrities’ homes and sell for $20,000 AUD or more.

At Frost Collective’s 50th deFrost event in the heart of Redfern, Sydney, Lister has replaced spray cans with a Google tilt brush — a medium he immediately became infatuated with.

“When I first put one on in this office maybe six months ago, I couldn’t take it off. I left sweating and with a big smile on my face.”

Frost Collective has partnered with Adobe, NestVR and Entropico to equip the prolific artist with the tools to bring his ideas to life — both the beautiful and the grotesque. Open the LISTER VR app and you’re transported into a whitewashed world where a robotic superhero uses his pelvis to rapidly thrust a gun in your face. Run the mobile AR app ‘Eyejack’ over a Lister-sketched skull, and your phone buzzes to life with colour and sound.

Lister calls his beloved street art “the final frontier of true artistic integrity” but acknowledges one missing quality that the virtual can provide — the power to last.

“It’s not a matter of whether new technology is able to create, but a matter of how those works can live on post-being created. It’s beautiful making art, and it’s exciting watching it being made, but it’s a matter of taking it from that platform of the experience and then having it potentially echo in eternity.”

Lister sees this technology creating unique communities, industries, and eventually tangible objects through 3D printing. It also poses a visionary question for businesses in the market now — how can you capitalise?

Imagine a florist offering virtual bouquet arrangements for consideration, or a council drafting virtual layouts for town planning. The ability to immerse viewers in the detail and “draw something so tiny then zoom right in there” is why Lister believes VR will become a part of every business.

“Businesses at the moment are using drones and 3D renders to sell apartment blocks and multi-billion-dollar buildings. It’s technology that actually sells things. And the better the presentation, the more the client can really immerse themselves in what’s about to happen.”

VR technology is still hampered by the physical cords connected to the hardware, but once these are outbred the opportunities for artists — and businesses — to explore and build are endless.

Lister hopes the crowd finds the experience of playing with future technology as invigorating as he does.

“I hope you’re left feeling the same way after watching Terminator 2, but without so much fear. The future is bright, and there is so much potential and so much going on that we’re unaware of. I think that’s exciting.”

Creative Dialogue

Join the discussion