The Works of the Artist Who Was Misled by Stanley Kubrick
The main character in Scott Listfield’s works is a lone astronaut who finds himself in an empty world, among the remains of civilization, represented mainly by outdoor advertising. It seems that Listfield’s astronaut is a character from the post-nuclear future. However, the artist depicts the present. Bird In Flight talked to him about his work.
American artist and illustrator. Born in Boston, studied art at Dartmouth College. Known for his works about an American astronaut on an abandoned Earth. Articles about Listfield’s work were published in Juxtapoz, Wired Magazine, Boston Globe, and New American Paintings. Exhibited his work in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Melbourne, London, and Amsterdam.
— I originally came up with the idea for these paintings while I was watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was around the actual year 2001, and I had been thinking for awhile about making a series of paintings about how I felt kind of like an alien in my own world. People ask me regularly if the astronaut in my paintings is a self-portrait. And in a way, it certainly is. The very first thing I wanted to do when I grew up was be an astronaut. But I was probably 5 years old at the time and didn’t exactly realize what that entailed. I get nauseous on long car rides, I don’t think I’d make it that far in a rocket ship. Later I had spent some time living away from home in Italy and Australia, and returning to the United States I felt like I was exploring a world I didn’t quite understand. I really like the fact that the astronaut is kind of a blank figure. It’s not obviously a man or a woman. You can’t see any faces through the mask.
The project really came out of a year or two towards the end of my college experience, and the start of my adult life, when I was living away from home. I got used to the idea of feeling like a foreigner. I was not in my home culture. Everything felt a little weird and different. My accent was strange. Every time I went anywhere, it was probably for the very first time, and might very well be the last time. I got used to this feeling, but I expected it to fade when I returned home. Much to my surprise, it did not. I felt equally out of place back at home.
I miss the spirit of exploration that was embodied by the idea of space travel. When I was growing up, way back in the 1980’s, all the shows and cartoons I watched on TV, all the things I read in books and comics, it all pointed to a future that would be lived in space. And then I grew up into a world where that dream was put on a shelf. Once I looked around at the reality of my life – living in a tiny apartment, taking the bus to work, cooking microwave meals for dinner, hanging out in a laundromat. And so I started thinking about making paintings that felt like short stories about how strange this contemporary world seemed to me.
I do reference pop culture a lot in my paintings. Some people might see it as an indictment of consumer culture, and in a way it is that, too. But I grew up going to McDonald’s and Burger King, eating Twinkies and Cheerios, and shopping at the mall. I walk down the street now and pass a neverending series of signs and billboards for Starbucks, The Gap, or CocaCola. I think this mess of colors, logos, and signs is the modern landscape we’ve built for ourselves. It’s the place we live nowadays, just as much as farmland, pastures, towns, and village streets that the landscape painters would depict a couple hundred years ago. So, for me, it seems natural to include them in my paintings. They’re advertisements, but I treat them like part of the scenery, as you would paint a tree or a mountain in the background. It’s one thing for my paintings to reference advertisements, it would be another thing if they became advertisements.
I’m very easy to find online, too, and that’s usually the best way to track what I’ve been up to. I do show my work regularly in galleries, and occasionally in museums, too. I’m always really honored when somebody likes my work enough to buy it. The buyers of my work are mostly just cool people who like what I do. I’ve got a bunch of gallery shows coming up. I have done some ‘official’ art shows, like one for Star Wars, which had Disney and Lucasfilm involved.
I don’t want to spend much time talking about Donald Trump, but I find everything about his presidency troubling, for America and the world at large. I don’t usually like my work to be too overtly political, but I do often talk about things like climate change and the effects of war in my paintings. Sometimes it’s through the prism of pop culture – for instance, a lot of our visions of the future, like Mad Max or Waterworld, or Terminator, take place in a future where the Earth has been left environmentally destroyed. But I do feel like we are at the point in history where we can still do something to change where we are headed.