Adam Lister Swiftly Blends New and Old Art with His 8-Pixel Painting Style
American painter Adam Lister’s signature pixelated paintings imitate everything from Van Gogh and Picasso masterpieces to Michael Jordan and Biggie.
With an appreciation for some of art history’s most famous masterpieces and a healthy splash of nostalgia rooted in his childhood memories from the 80s and 90s, Adam Lister has conceived his own pixelated painting language. The result is an expansive range of watercolour paintings imitating everything from Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night and Édouard Manet’s Olympia to Biggie Smalls’ iconic album covers and Star Wars, all with his own pixelated twist.
Lister begun painting when he was a teenager and continued throughout high school, which led him to leave his hometown in Virginia and attend the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he studied the fundamentals and techniques of the legendary paintings before him.
“My time at SVA really opened my eyes to possibilities of what “art” could be,” Lister reveals to LYFSTYL. His time studying in Manhattan was filled with constant learning and honing his craft, but by the end of his tenure Adam had decided he wanted to pursue a career in art. In the early stages on his career, he grew a love for creating purely abstract paintings that were geometric inspired, but completely non-representational.
However as he continued to experiment with his work, Lister began to break away from the traditional abstract expressionism movement and began to forge his own artistic style. He started to toy with the idea of describing images with the same geometric shapes he had already been using in his abstract work. The first artwork he projected it on was the Mona Lisa, nonetheless, and the result was an extremely simple and stripped down blend of abstract and representational.
In looking towards fond memories of 8-bit computer graphics and minimal old-school video games he grew up with, Lister reinvents famous works and iconic images from pop culture with his own distinct digital style. Prevalent influences of both cubism and abstract expressionism undeniably echo throughout his work, but through constant refinement and searching, he’s carved out his own voice that belongs to him. In creating an authentic look, he deliberately avoids the use of diagonal or straight lines, further emphasized with the strong contrast between the rigid structure and soft watercolour colours he paints with.
“It’s a challenge to me, how can I make “this” look like “this” with a minimal amount of shapes?” Lister reveals. “I like the idea of taking a familiar image or object and simplifying it to the point at which it takes on a new form.”
As Lister continued to experiment with the way in which he painted, he continued to experiment with his subject on canvas as well. Whether it’s paying homage to some of the greatest painters in history like Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, René Magritte’s The Son of Man and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, or translating his style onto the classic pop culture figures that he grew up watching such as The Simpsons, Michael Jordan, Batman and The Goonies, the American painter has given his work a personalized meaning infused with nostalgia that’s relatable across generations.
“I paint images I love and feel a connection to. I have a passion for art history and the story that comes along with it, making that an topic of interest for me,” Lister says. “As for the more pop references it’s usually based on something I remember loving as a kid.”
His choice of subject matter gives credit to his exploration of nostalgia and mathematics, taking on iconic images from throughout pop culture that are already ingrained in our memories. “I try to make things that are old look new, but still a little bit old. If that makes sense,” he reveals. Driven by a desire to capture the briefness of an image, Lister’s curiosity plays with the spatial arrangement, with visual interpretation made up of flat, angular shapes and forms found throughout the composition.
Indeed, his influence on pop culture was evident when BAPE contacted him in 2016. They had seen his work and wanted to incorporate his visual language and art vision into a joint collaboration. Lister proceeded to take some of BAPE’s most iconic images and make his own versions. The result were four different shirt designs and four limited edition prints. The following year he conceived a painting of the BAPE ape head logo for the opening of the brand’s France location, which still hangs at the entrance to the new store to this day. Lister was also invited to have an exhibit at KITH’s new micro gallery space at their New York location, which was designed by KITH founder himself Ronnie Fieg and artist Daniel Arsham.
As the successes continued to pile up for Lister, there seems to be no slowing him down. He’s set for a big year, with two group exhibitions on the way–”Supersonic” at Spoke Art Gallery in New York and “Wu Legacy” at JAG in San Diego. He’ll also be showcasing his work in a solo exhibit with Black Book Gallery in Denver this April. He also hinted at igniting flames with BAPE once again.
Influenced by geometric thinking and a desire to capture briefness in a mental picture, Lister’s visual language was something he chipped away at over time. The result is a unique artistic legacy that speaks to its viewers off of nostalgia and interest. “I like for people to feel curious at first and then connected,” Lister says. However, in creating artwork based off of first generation video games and iconic cultural figures, Lister is creating a relatable and unique, approaching classic items with a refreshing and beautiful take.
“I want to be known for bringing a different and unique vision into the world of painting,” he concludes.
Words by Braeden Alexander – For more of Adam Lister’s work, click here.