For this interview, we sat down with contemporary artist Adam Lister. Lister Grew up in Virginia and obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts in NYC. He has shown his works in galleries worldwide and has worked with companies such as Japanese streetwear brand BAPE. His unique 8-bit style of painting has made his work stand out in the large sea of contemporary art. His art is fresh and simple and sets the viewer at ease with its recognizable subjects. Below we talk about what his process is like, what he does to relax, and much much more.
-When did you first pick up a paintbrush to create your first paintings, and what was it like?
I’ve been painting since i was a little kid. When I was 13 my mom put me in a watercolor painting class for adults, I instantly fell in love with the medium. It was a challenge to learn to control a sometimes uncontrollable type of paint. I kept painting during high school and ended up going to college to study fine arts.
– When did you first choose to paint in this 8-bit style?
I had been painting in a very hard edge geometric way for several years, completely abstract paintings. All about color and form. During this time I was working a job as a mosaic tile artist, creating huge geometric patterns in tiny square and rectangular tiles. I reached a point where I wanted something that would connect to a wider audience but I was still strongly drawn to the mathematics and structure of the abstract work I had been making. So I started playing around with creating images with a similar visual language, trying to make a portrait or a landscape using only right angle shapes. Now I was born in 1978 I grew up with Atari and the first Nintendo. This way of design and seeing will always be in my mind.
– Out all of the series, you have worked on what is your favorite?
Probably my Star Wars series
– Can you give some insight into your creative process?
I get to the studio, I turn on some music. Sometimes I draw, sometimes I paint, and sometimes I just stare out the window. It all depends on the day.
I have a four year old daughter so I try to spend as much time as possible with her during the day.. leading to me working late nights almost everyday. I like late night working.. my studio building is usually empty, I have privacy, and I can just crank the music and paint until my hand cramps up. I work with a lot of different people and brands, but ultimately the real creative process of my work happens when I’m alone, locked down in the studio.
– Outside of art what do you do for fun or to relax?
I love good food and strong coffee. I also like to read a lot and wander around outside.
– What is your most fond memory when growing up?
When I was a kid my friends and I found this empty office building near our house, it was huge and completely abandoned.. and there was an unlocked door in the back. For a couple years we used to go there and spend hours rollerblading through the halls and rooms there. It was pretty awesome as a kid.
– How is living in New York different from living in Virginia?
I grew up in VA, and I moved to NY when I was 19. Then I moved back to VA when I was 30 and then back to NY when I was 34. I’ll be 40 this year. Living in VA as an artist is hard, I won’t lie about it. Its part suburban, part southern and part northern.. kinda right in the middle. When i first moved to NY, I was exposed to so many new things, i’m talking about art, drugs, and other things as well. NY galleries are different than VA galleries the same way girls in NY are different then girls in VA. I’m a firm believer in the idea that location is everything.
-Your artworks focus a lot on popular culture. What are some more recent films from the past decade that stand out to you?
A few.. The Black Swan, Coraline, any and everything by Wes Anderson.
-What does a Lister music Playlist look like? Does your music taste change as your mood does?
Yes my taste changes, but I’m hip hop 99% of the way. Lately I’m into Comethazine, YBN Cordae, G Herbo, Shoreline Mafia, Pouya, and always Wu-Tang.
– In your own way, you are resurrecting the past, whether it be a film from the 70s or a paintingmade by one of the greats. What do you think draws us to recreate the past for today’s art, and do you think someday a future artist will do the same with your art?
I think for most its a nostalgia thing, and for me I like the idea of making something old look new, but still kind of look old. I hope someone will reference my work someday in the future, that would just help my ideas live on longer.
– In another interview, you spoke on working hard and skipping parties to achieve your dreams. What was your biggest drive and inspiration to keep going, to put all of your efforts toward your dreams?
The day I found out my wife was pregnant. Shit got real.. really fast. I turned all my focus on to figuring out a way to make it work. I always wanted to build something for myself, something that would grow and change and stay interesting.
– Have you achieved the dreams you had back when you were in college, or have your dreams changed along the way?
Back in college I thought I could just make art and someday I’d get “discovered” by a famous collector and then I’d be set. Not so much the case as the years went on. I quickly realized that I had to be pro active and i had to put myself out there. I failed a lot… I did art exhibits at shitty galleries and hardly anyone would come to the openings, let alone buy anything! I’ve been hustled by shady gallery dealers, I’ve been pushed around by artists with bigger names. Fuck em. Now my dreams revolve around my family, and me being able to support them and have a loving home. Beyond that, I want to just keep making art. At this point, if I can make paintings, and meet and work with interesting people, I’m 100% good with that.
– You talked about the struggle you had figuring out the business side of the art world at the beginning of your carrier. Do you have any advice you can give to a younger artist who might be in the same boat you once were in?
Yes, be consistent and remember it is ok to say “no”. I used to jump on every project offered to me, at the time I thought, this might be my chance, so with no thought I’d do it, anything that involved getting my art out there into the world, I did it. Big mistake, that sucked up my time and creative energy. Young artists need to be extremely selective about who they work with. Artists can be easy prey for scammers or bad business people. Also people will want you to do things for free or for exposure. That can work in your favor if you play it right, but its tricky because each situation is unique.
– What are your opinions on the way Instagram has changed how we consume art? Do you find Instagram to be an overall positive or negative for the art community?
Its tough for me, I think its a bit of both. Its absolutely been a game changer for me and my work. I’ve connected with brands, collectors, and galleries all over the world via Instagram. The simple fact that I can post a new painting and someone in Japan sees it and buys it in a matter of minutes, is something past generations of artists never had. At the same time, Instagram and the other social media platforms are changing the way we view ourselves, based on the response that we get online. It can be a dangerous thing for our world, and as much as it has been an amazing outlet for me professionally, I think it will be our downfall as a society.
– You recently did a big project with BAPE. What was it like to work with such a large brand?
Very cool! The team at BAPE is awesome, super supportive of me and my work. I’ve been working with BAPE since 2016. We’ve done collaborations in NYC, Paris, LA, and most recently Japan. Working with such an iconic brand has been an honor, and it has definitely helped push my career forward.
– Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to let people know about?
I have several collaborations in the works right now, most of them I can’t discuss yet, but the next one is with Anwar Carrots from CARROTS brand. We designed a collaboration capsule featuring my take on the brand’s classic logo. I also have my first official sneaker design coming out next year, I’m not allowed to say who the brand is yet, but it should be cool.
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