Brooklyn based artist Anthony Lister, arguably this country’s most famous/prolific street artist, was commissioned last month to paint a mural in a vacant Fortitude Valley lot in his hometown of Brisbane. Less than 48 hours after completion however, Lister’s work was erased by Brisbane City Council’s Graffiti Reduction Unit who egregiously “buffed” it thinking it the act of vandals. The incident was covered by Brisbane’s main daily, The Courier Mail as well as Channel Ten’s local news (see below), garnering well over 200 comments in the former and a hilarious case of mistaken identity in the latter.

And while the incident’s distressing to advocates of free expression, it’s encouraging that mainstream news organizations are taking notice of Australia’s draconian anti-graffiti laws as well as that eternal struggle between local artists and local council best summarized by this picture. We recently caught up with Lister to his discuss thoughts on Australia’s anti-graffiti laws, the slow march toward validation and his future plans for the wall they painted over.

First up can you explain how you were first commissioned to paint the piece? I had returned to Brisbane and had a meeting with councilor David Hinchliffe and I was talking about how bland the city was looking in comparison to others in the world and we got talking about walls and paintings and he talked to some people who owned the building in that vacant lot and it was decided that I would do a painting there. They offered to pay for paint and equipment but I wasn’t interested, I wanted to do this for Brisbane and pay for it myself as a kind of gift. I never asked to be paid any money for this project, not before or after it was destroyed. I merely asked for the buffing to stop in that area. I wanted to be the curator of the space and help construct a safe zone for artists and outdoor gallery for the public.

And how do you feel about it now, a few weeks later? At first it was really disappointing to think that all my hard work and generosity was being slapped in my face. But after seeing what it stirred up I am kind of happy to be taking one for the team. I mean it’s kind of about ‘freedom of visual speech’. Who is to say what is graffiti and what is art or what is advertising for that matter. I was disappointed. But it wasn’t even finished. I planned on doing so much more to it as i revisited the city for many years to come.

How can local artists work with local council to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future? It seems hopeless but thanks to Luke from Ironlak I will be returning to Brisbane to repair the damage in the near future.

What are you feelings toward the Graffiti Reduction Unit? Honestly I think they have a role in society as much as the craft that gives them a job. But I do question what spraying artwork out of drains and off water towers has to do with spending hundreds of thousands of tax payers’ dollars. It’s just wasting too much money and resources caring about what Egyptians and Aboriginals have done for millenniums before us.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment? A solo show in Sydney at Chalk Horse Gallery on November 25th. Then Miami Basel.

Title Image Provided by Anthony Lister