Thinkspace is pleased to present Scott Listfield’s latest exhibition, ‘The Multiverse.’ This complex show is the result of two years of feeling stuck, both physically and mentally. On the other side of a difficult period globally and personally, Listfield set out to make a show that was autobiographical in nature.
Looking back at the different lives he’s lived, people he’s known, and almost 600 paintings he’s created, Listfield was able to see his signature astronaut in a new light. Revisiting some of the earliest settings as a means to revisit the time in his life when he first created those pieces and walk in the shoes of a much younger version of himself.
The result is striking, balancing the alien with the familiar, the realistic with the fantastic. At its core, the show is about escaping—escaping as both a means of relief and self-discovery. The work is vast and varied.
Our interview with Scott Listfield for ‘The Multiverse’ discusses his artistic challenges with going bigger, what motivated him to keep painting after a hard blow to his artistic ambitions, and ice cream.
After the interview, you can view a studio tour with Scott Listfield created by Birdman photos. ‘The Multiverse’ is on view now through June 25th.
What multiverse version of Scott would you like to meet?
I can’t imagine any scenario where meeting other versions of me wouldn’t immediately require therapy. I mean, every time one of us opens their mouth the other one would be like “Oh no. Is that what I sound like??” Just one me looking at another me and both of them regretting every choice they made when dressing themselves that morning. One me saying “Remember when we were 9 and missed out on meeting He-Man because we ate Chicken McNuggets and got diarrhea?” and the other me looking pained, nodding. Oof. Imagine meeting a more successful version of yourself? I think I’d just go live in a cave after that. I’m totally fine being the only me in this universe. One of me seems plenty.
When assembling your book “Astronaut” were you already bookmarking the works that you wanted to revisit for this exhibition? What was your process like for developing this exhibition?
Well, my book came out over 3 years ago now, so offhand, I’d say no, I certainly hadn’t conceived the idea for this show yet back then. But that might have started a longer-term process where instead of feeling slightly embarrassed about my earliest work, I began to see them as vital stepping stones toward the artist I am now. And thinking about the entire history of my work, and what that means to me, as I continue to paint more and more of these things. So maybe that was the very beginning of the process that landed me here, now, painting contemporary interpretations of some of my very first astronaut paintings.
As for my process? Well, the first step was to live through two years of an on-again, off-again, but mostly on-again global pandemic where you don’t leave the house much and time ceases to have any meaning. Step two is to have some weird f*cked up dreams. The kind where long-dead friends stop by, you take meandering walks in places you haven’t been in twenty years, some guy from high school you barely knew, even back then, shows up and gets Nickelodeon slimed for some reason. Those kinds of dreams. Increasingly your weird time-traveling dream world feels more tangible than the actual real world, and the two start to meld. As this was all going on, a third close friend of mine, Jason Chase, passed away last fall, right as I was starting to work on this show. 20 years ago, I lost my friend Chris Ostoj. 10 years ago, my friend Wes. I felt tossed back into a closed-loop, living the same parts of my life in different places and times. Then I made 23 paintings about it. So, I guess that was my process in a nutshell.
You’ve been sharing a lot of anecdotes from your life along with various pieces that will be touched upon in “The Multiverse” – do you journal or practice any additional record keeping of your life story, or are the pieces the memory triggers?
I guess my paintings are my journals? I don’t really need to write it all down because it’s there in each painting. I’ve done almost 600 of them now, and you’d think I wouldn’t remember much about most of them, but many of them, especially the early ones, are locked into an archive in my mind along with whatever was going on in my life at the time I painted them. They are, in a very literal way, the story of my life. Up until now, these paintings have been only obliquely about me, though. I would place the astronaut alongside bits and pieces of assorted pop culture, along with other mostly recognizable elements, to tell a story. This is the first time I’m using bits and pieces of my own life, and my own old paintings, in the way I’d normally use a pop culture reference. And so the stories I’m telling in this show are a lot more personal. Which makes them easier to remember, I guess.
In looking back at your artistic journey, what is the most significant change within you from then to now? What has been a constant?
I mean, I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, so pretty much everything has changed. I live in a different city on a different coast, I know entirely different people. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived many different lives over that time. I had a day job when I started, now I paint 37 hours every day. The one constant, aside from me and the astronaut, has been my wife Joanna, who has been along for this entire ride. She is, without a doubt, the stabilizing force in all of this. It’s easier to wander further and further from center when you know you have someone with you.
What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition and why?
I made three paintings in this show that are each the largest paintings on canvas I’ve ever made. I’ve done a few murals that were bigger, but for all intents and purposes, these are the largest things I’ve ever done. That in and of itself was a challenge. The physicality of making paintings that big is something I had to plan for. I spent the last week on each, basically painting on my knees. I had to account for distance from my reference images. I had to figure out how to transfer my sketches to something that big. The whole thing was a learning curve for me and required me to adapt my normal process a little bit and constantly be thinking ahead.
In addition to the physical problems inherent with working that big, each of these three paintings are about a close friend of mine that I lost over the years, and so they were very loaded emotionally. While working on them, I often listened to music playlists from the time when I knew these friends, and it would bring me back to that time in my life in a way that was occasionally more visceral than I was expecting. I guess I’d say I expected them to be physically taxing, but I wasn’t quite as prepared for the emotional toll.
When the Boston Gallery you were showing at closed down, you have a period of questioning whether you would continue painting – what influenced you to return to the work and what was the process like to build momentum towards a regular practice?
Stubbornness. That was like 90% of it.
I could have quit painting back then and aside from a few people, almost no one would have cared. Which is a rather humbling realization. But in the end, I realized that I still enjoyed doing it, and I still had things to say. I mean, given options I would have preferred my art career not to bottom out back then, but it made me realize that no matter what, I had to make art first and foremost for myself. I had to do it because I wanted to do it. I couldn’t wait around for external validation to make it worth my while. I know that seems like an obvious lesson, but it’s really easy to lose sight of that once you start selling your artwork. That lesson has kept me going to this point and is something I stop to consider regularly, even now, some 15 years later. Following my own path, making the art that I wanted to make, trusting my own voice and my own vision, that’s what got me to where I am now. And if I hadn’t learned those lessons early on? Well, who knows?
Were you more of a Real World or Road Rules kind of person?
I was more of a Beavis and Butthead person, to be honest. Although I did enjoy the first few seasons of the Real World. I never got too into Road Rules, although a guy I knew in high school was on one of the early seasons. And I ended up, years later, meeting someone from the first season of the Real World, who was a super nice guy and came to a couple of my art openings. So I’ll call it a tie. Ok, Ok. Slight edge to the Real World, because I watched pretty much all of the Los Angeles and San Francisco seasons.
As you’re a person that enjoys the pursuit of the unexpected and new, would you consider yourself a spontaneous person?
Haha, absolutely not. I’m a habitual planner. That said, I do like to explore and get lost, just as long as I happen to have a map on hand so I can find my way back eventually.
When you first ventured into being a full-time artist, there was an anxiety that you might run out of ideas, but instead, they came even more freely, and after 500+ works, you can definitely own the title of prolific. Are you ever anxious about repeating yourself? Do you think an artist can become derivative of themselves?
No. I mean, yes. But not really.
That was vague. I do think all artists worry to some degree about redoing something they’ve done before, or just becoming a bit stale within the confines they’ve set up for themselves. I’m a bit lucky in that, while the astronaut is the unifying theme of my work, the paintings themselves can take place literally anywhere. I have a boundless world to explore. I can’t imagine running out of places to send the astronaut, although it’s certainly possible I might at some point reach the boundaries of my own imagination. And, as I paint ever more of these, it’s probable I’ll start doubling up on settings and themes. But that’s ok, I think. I don’t want to tread too closely to things I’ve done in the past, but it’s ok to revisit familiar ground with a fresh perspective. I’m not the same artist I was 5, 10, or 20 years ago, and so the paintings I make now will be different, regardless, from the ones I’ve already done.
What is one of your favorite ‘Run the Jewels’ songs and why?
I’m going to go with “Close your eyes (and count to F*ck)” off of Run The Jewels 2. It was the first song that really got me into them, and has remained in my regular rotation ever since. Right from the opening seconds, it gives absolutely no f*cks. Which is very much the type of energy I need more of in my life. That said, there’s 7 or 8 great songs off their most recent album (RTJ4), and probably as many from the one before that (RTJ3), so you can’t really go wrong.
Are you still enjoying McConnell’s Salted Caramel Chip ice cream, or have you moved on to a new flavor?
Yes! Forget the art stuff; let’s talk ice cream for the next hour and a half. McConnell’s Salted Caramel Chip is delicious. I also really like their Eureka Lemon and Marionberries flavor, despite the constant confusion I have as to whether it has anything to do with the disgraced former mayor of Washington D.C. I’m usually a pretty straight ahead, peanut butter and chocolate type, so call me surprised those are my two favorite flavors, but I highly recommend them both.
There’s also a vegan ice cream place that opened in my neighborhood before the pandemic and I didn’t go there for like a year and a half because: there was a pandemic happening and I wasn’t going much of anywhere. And: it’s VEGAN. Which, I’m sorry, I do like vegan food, but dairy? I remain skeptical. Oh, and most importantly: it has just the absolutely worst name in the world. Just the worst. If I asked you to come up with an eye-rollingly stereotypical name for a southern Californian vegan ice cream shop, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with something this cringe-worthy. I know what you’re thinking – there’s got to be a bad pun in the name, right? No. There’s two bad puns in the name. The name is so bad it prevented me from trying their ice cream for like almost 2 years. It’s right down the street! I didn’t go. I was boycotting their bad branding decisions.
Finally, after hearing 3 or 4 people recommend it, I went and tried it, and god damn it might be my favorite ice cream in Los Angeles. And I feel like for me to recommend, on the internet, where search engines can find me, a place with a name this bad, you know the ice cream must be really good. OK, the place is called Yoga-Urt. Yeah. I know. Yoga. Yogurt. Yurts, maybe? I don’t know. It’s bad. And yet, I don’t ever do this, I want the Yoga-Urt people to know I love their product tremendously despite their bad name. I will shill your products, Yoga-Urt, on the internet. Hit me up. I have Instagram followers. You can pay me in vegan ice cream. I will be your spokesperson. I will wear shirts that say YOGA-URT on them, and it will pain me but that pain will be soothed by your delicious dairy-free ice cream. Let’s do this. Call me, Yoga-Urt.