News of Mr Lister’s arrest shocked the art scene on Wednesday, prompting the cancellation of an exhibition at Wollongong Art Gallery, as well as associated events and classes.
One such event was pitched at three to five-year-olds and billed as a chance to “explore artworks through storytelling, art making, songs and games”.
Police allege four different women, one a foreign national, were aged between 18 and 19 when they were sexually assaulted by the artist on different occasions while intoxicated with drugs and alcohol.
The women did not know each other and all reported the alleged assaults independently of one another over the three years to 2018.
Mr Lister’s children were at home at the time of one of the alleged assaults.
The women all allegedly met Mr Lister through the art scene, three of them as students. Police will allege Mr Lister “used his prominence as an artist to influence the women”.
One, with whom he allegedly had non-consensual sex twice, also claimed she was intoxicated at a party in Redfern in 2015 when Mr Lister tattooed three lines on her body.
In court documents police allege the artist “did tattoo the torso” of the woman “without her consent” in Redfern on November 28, 2015.
Mr Lister, 40, has been charged with a number of offences including five counts of sexual intercourse without consent, using an intoxicating substance to commit an indictable offence and causing grievous bodily harm to a person with intent.
He has also been charged with possessing a firearm, prohibited drugs and a prohibited weapon.
The father of three appeared on audio-visual link at Central Local Court on Wednesday, in handcuffs and wearing the same t-shirt and grey tracksuit pants he was wearing during his arrest.
Mr Lister did not apply for bail and it was formally refused.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Lister’s long-time lawyer Stewart Levitt said the artist was “distressed” by the charges, which he “emphatically denies” and planned to defend.
“From what I have seen, we’re getting close to the stage in criminal justice where consensual sex itself may be treated as a crime,” Mr Levitt said.
“Where substance abuse may be involved, the question is, who is responsible for whom?”
Mr Levitt said the case would be an important test on “the responsibilities of men and women in sexual encounters to themselves and to each other”.
He added that he was not commenting on the credibility of any witness.
Mr Lister is scheduled to appear in court on May 7, however he is expected to make a release application next week.
Following his arrest, detectives executed two search warrants at Mr Lister’s home in Darlinghurst and an industrial studio at Marrickville. At the studio they seized prohibited drugs, including methylamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA and cannabis.
Four replica pistols, knuckle dusters, computers, mobile phones and cameras were also seized.
Mr Lister’s work has featured in galleries and public spaces, as well as in high-end fashion boutiques such as Hermes. An exhibition held last year priced some of his artworks between $150 and $17,500.
One of his earlier works, Dressed to Kill, was purchased 10 years ago by Brisbane Grammar School, where it had been hanging. On Wednesday the Herald confirmed the painting was to be removed in light of the charges.
The National Gallery of Australia has three Lister originals in its collection but a spokeswoman said none were on display and there were no plans to show them.
Other prominent solo Lister exhibitions have featured in galleries around Australia, as well as in London, Lyon, Milan, Berlin, Toronto and across the US.
Much of Mr Lister’s recent work has been focused on the human form and female figure, while the artist has previously spoken of his interest in ballet dancers.
“Ballerinas are kind of like strippers, only they don’t take their clothes off. I’m interested in breaking art,” he said in comments for a biographical profile by Metro Galley in Victoria.
Born in Brisbane, Mr Lister completed a bachelor of fine arts degree at the Queensland College of the Arts in 2001. The 40-year-old is credited with pioneering the stencil and street art movement in Brisbane before moving to New York in 2003.
One well-connected Sydney gallerist familiar with Mr Lister and his work describing him as one of the top 100 street artists in the world.
– with Nick Galvin
Lucy Cormack is a crime reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.