Thinkspace is proud to present ‘This is America’ featuring new works by Boston born and raised, Los Angeles based artist Scott Listfield. The exhibition is a new collection of Listfield’s lone astronaut adventuring into dystopian landscapes inspired by national parks and various landmarks. An ironically poignant body of work given the current pandemic.
In anticipation of ‘This Is America’, our interview with Listfield covers his survival skills, Childish Gambino, and when he knows a piece is finished.
Join us on May 30th for the virtual opening of ‘This Is America.’
Full schedule of events after the interview
SH: For those not familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background in life and art?
Of course. My name is Scott Listfield. I paint astronauts and, sometimes dinosaurs.I was first inspired to start painting astronauts after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. This was over 20 years ago now, but while watching the film I was struck by how the 2001 I thought I would grow up into – one where I had a robot best friend and a flying car and I lived on the moon – compared to my real life in 2001 – where I was just out of school, working an entry-level job, living in an entry-level apartment, and generally ill-prepared to be an adult. 20 years later I’m still painting astronauts and still somewhat ill-prepared to be an adult. But now I live and work in Los Angeles, and the astronaut in my work has explored a strange and ever-changing world over the span of the 450+ paintings I’ve made in the series. And I still like to think about the disconnect between the future I thought I’d grow up into and the present I’m actually stuck in. Especially as that present has taken a couple of recent turns into some very weird territory.
SH: The artist statement/press release for this show is pretty in-depth and perfectly encapsulates the irony of the current pandemic and the dystopian nature of your work. Could you breakdown the spirit of that statement and of this latest body of work in three words?
Thanks! The show statement I wrote is “Pretty in-depth,” which is a very nice way of saying “super f*cking long.” I’m wordy by nature (enjoy reading this long interview, everyone), so I’m not sure there’s anyway I can cut it down to just three words. I already get stressed out trying to fit something into a Tweet. But the show is titled This Is America. Which, coincidentally, is exactly three words. So there you go.
SH: Can you dive into your inspiration and process for selecting the locations our Mr. Astronaut will be exploring in this exhibition and how you approached their post-apocalyptic appearance?
When Andrew and I originally started talking about this show a while back, we had been discussing the idea of a show about national parks. Now as I started thinking more about the show, and what I really wanted to say, that idea started to morph and change a little bit. I was thinking a lot about the tradition of American landscape painting, about the places that we think of when we think about America, and about the monuments, statues, buildings, and landmarks that feel quintessentially American. Like a lot of people, I’ve been worried about where our country is heading, whether those places we romanticize still mean anything anymore. Is this the end of America as we know it? Or are we just about to enter a different chapter? Where we’ll be in another ten, twenty, or a hundred years? I wanted the astronaut in my work to explore some of those places and ask some of those questions and maybe – maybe – look for an answer somewhere out there.
SH: If you had to choose a dystopian future and end of the world, how are we going down? Robots, Zombies, Asteroid — murder hornets? What is the plan?
I don’t have a strong preference, since I will almost certainly be one of the morons who mistakenly runs for cover IN the murder hornet nest and dies instantly. Even if by some chance I survive for more than 30 minutes in any sort of apocalypse situation, my fellow future humans will quickly realize that I bring little to the table in terms of survival skills. I mean, I can paint astronauts and I’m pretty good at ping pong and that’s about all I’ve got.
SH: Who are some of your creative influences?
Well I named this show after a song by Childish Gambino. So I’ll include him in my list. I already mentioned that watching 2001: A Space Odyssey was the original source of inspiration for me to start painting astronauts, and it’s not so hard to see that Star Wars has been hugely influential in my life as well. These days, though, I’m largely inspired by my peers. I love (and miss) going to shows at Thinkspace, and a number of other galleries here in Los Angeles. There are sooooo many great artists working right now. It’s really inspiring to me to feel like I’m now a small part of all that creative energy. When I first started making these weird astronaut paintings over 20 years ago, I didn’t know anybody else who was doing anything remotely like what I was trying to do. I had no idea if anyone would ever like it, ever buy any of it, or ever get what I was trying to say. It’s been really humbling and amazing to be able to talk to other artists who I really admire and who know what I’m doing, and respond to it like I respond to their work.
SH: What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition and why?
Definitely the Grand Canyon painting. It’s the largest in the show and I had to paint the entire thing with my tiniest brush. I’m not sure why I decided to make a 30×40 inch painting that was literally nothing but detail work. Probably because I hate my wrists and want them to fall off.
SH: How do you know when a piece is finished? When is it time to back away slowly and put the brush down?
I realize this is a really hard problem for the vast majority of artists, and they will almost certainly hate me for my answer. But I work on a painting from top to bottom and left to right, mostly so that I don’t smear anything when I inevitably put my hand or arm down on the canvas, and the painting is done when I get to the bottom right corner. That’s it. I walk away. Of course there are times where I need to go back in and touch up some details. But it’s super easy for us to get really obsessive about that process of messing around with a painting when it’s functionally 95% done. And most of the time it’s only the artists themselves that notice the difference in that last 5%. Of course, it’s absolutely worth doing right, and doing well! But it’s decidedly not worth spending 50% of your time on that 5% that few people will even notice. And besides, the part of painting I enjoy most is getting started on that next one. I’m always thinking about my next painting. And so I finish them up and move on.
SH: We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – What is your approach to life during this time? Are you sticking to routines, or making it up as we go? What does quarantine life look like for you?
Frankly not that different than my pre-quarantine life, just with a considerable amount more dread. I had a lot of paintings to make when it started and I have a lot of paintings to make now. Staying busy keeps me sane – well, somewhat – so I’m glad I have work to do. Like a lot of people, my days have started all bleeding together, and there’s barely anything that’s happened in the last 10 weeks that serves as any kind of marker, other than the few times I’ve ventured out of the house to run errands. So even though I like to keep myself busy, not having any real break is starting to feel a little like wandering aimlessly through a never ending haze. But I lived in Boston for a very long time, and in some ways this is like suffering through an especially long winter. Just a lot weirder.
SH: Favorite thing you’ve watched, listened to, and ate in the last 30 days? Or since days don’t matter anymore, since the “shelter-in-place” orders came down.
I quite enjoyed the latest season of “The End of the F*cking World” on Netflix. In the studio I’ve been listening to new albums by Caroline Rose, and new singles by Run The Jewels. And I’m hoping I didn’t buy the last two pints of McConnel’s salted caramel chip ice cream in existence. That sh*t is delicious and I haven’t seen it any supermarkets since like week 2 of the quarantine.
And here’s a couple bonus book recommendations for sci-fi fans: The Interdependency trilogy by John Scalzi, and the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.
SH: What is the most rewarding moment thus far in your art career? How about your life?
To the first point I’d have to say publishing a book on my work. I can point to a lot of individual shows I’ve had that I’m really proud of, but having a book come out feels like wrapping a bow around my entire life. It’s definitely something I wasn’t sure I would ever achieve.
To the second point, easily, meeting my wife. There are a billion different ways my life could have gone where we would never have crossed paths. It’s the largest stroke of luck I’ve ever had that we just happened to be in the same place at the same time.
SH: If you could be on a zoom call with 5 people dead or alive who would they be? What would be the ice breaker question?
Let me get this straight. You want me to summon Picasso, Galileo, Anthony Bourdain, David Bowie, and some rando back from the dead just to drop them straight into a Zoom call? No. Not doing that. I’m not going to try to explain over video chat that SURPRISE they’re alive now, but also they have to use a computer to talk to people but, hey, they can give themselves a Star Wars background if they want.
Online Schedule of Virtual Events:
Saturday, May 30 at 12:00 noon pacific time we will post our professionally shot video tour of our new exhibitions to our Instagram TV
Saturday, May 30 from 1-2 pm pacific time we will go live on our Instagram to tour our new exhibitions + we will have all the artists on hand to briefly discuss their new shows
Sunday, May 31 at 2 pm pacific time we will post a full set of installation photos from both exhibitions to our Facebook and blog
Monday, June 1 at 4 pm pacific time we will share a link to the self-guided virtual tour of our new exhibitions on all of our social networks
Saturday, June 20 from 4-8 pm we will have a closing party via timed visits (scheduled online) that will be strictly monitored for everyone’s safety. No more than 4 patrons at one time, in one group (all must know each other and arrive at the same time). Masks will be required to enter and worn at all times. No exceptions. More details shared soon.