Interview with Scott Listfield for ‘This Is America’

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.

TONER MAGAZINE INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT LISTFIELD

Toner Magazine Scott Listfield

Toner Magazine recently interviewed Thinkspace Family member Scott Listfield who’s most recent exhibition “1984” was on view this past January. The interview explores Listfield’s inspiration and path as a creative person. Visit Toner Magazine for the full interview and a great highlight of Listfield’s body of work over the years.

Creativity without discipline is a nice hobby. Which is fine. Hobbies are coolBut if you want to make a career out of something, or even just get your work out there in the world, you better be ready to get some work done, make some sacrifices. – Scott Listfield for Toner Magazine

Interview with Scott Listfield for “1984”

Scott Listfield’s latest body of work of hyper-realistic oil painting inspired by Orwell’s 1984 and his own childhood memories of the 80’s kick off Thinkspace’s 2018 project room. The single astronaut who explores various landscape eliciting self-reflection from the viewer takes a time jump to a world once familiar and distant, with an unsettling familiarity. Our interview with Scott Listfield dives deeper into the inspiration behind the show, those who have influenced his artistic growth, and posthumous collaboration.

Opening reception Saturday, January 6th from 6 pm – 9 pm.

SH: How long have you been working on this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?
SL: Well, I’ve been painting astronauts since 1999 which, considering how fast things move these days, is basically the dawn of time. I’ve been thinking about this particular series, though, for probably about a year now. In January 0f 2017, the George Orwell novel 1984 jumped to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list, which seemed a bit curious to me, since it was written in 1949 and all. So I’d be thinking about doing a set of paintings about what 1984 meant in 2017, which touched on themes from the book, referenced the wave of nostalgia for the 80’s that we always seem to be in, pulled from memories I had as a kid growing up in the 80’s, but also maybe talked about the world we’re living in today. That’s already kind of a lot to throw into one group of paintings, so of course, I decided to also add in some references to popular music, a recurring Lamborghini Countach, and a whole hell of a lot of stripes. And it probably took me about 3-4 months to finish all the work.

SH: What is your favorite band, movie, and TV show from the 80’s?
SL: For those of you too young to remember the 80’s, it was pretty much exactly like Stranger Things. We all had BMX bikes, bowl cuts, and there was an inter-dimensional demon in our hometowns that we had to destroy. Just like Bruce Springsteen used to sing about. Anyhow, if I’m going to pick my favorites from that era, I feel like I have to choose the things that were most important to me then. Which means you’re getting 8-year-old Scott’s favorites, not necessarily the things that still resonate with me most today. Although, now that I think about it, maybe they’re the same list.

Band: Michael Jackson. Movie: Return of the Jedi. TV Show: Transformers (the cartoon, obviously).

SH: What is your favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part?
SL: My favorite part is making paintings. My least favorite part is not making paintings.

SH: When painting are you listening to music or podcasts? Can you share what you were listening to while developing this body of work?
SL: I used to listen to music while in the studio, but as I’ve gotten older, and increasingly bewildered by young people’s tastes in music, I find myself listening to more podcasts. But I do still listen to a fair bit of music while I’m painting, and I had new albums by Cut Copy, Action Bronson, Yellow Days, LCD Soundsystem, and King Krule in circulation in the studio, alongside some 80’s hits by Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, and Hall and Oates, which put me in the proper 1984 type of mood. As for podcasts, I listen to The Jealous Curator’s “Art For Your Ear,” one of my favorite art podcasts, and “Beyond Yacht Rock,” a podcast about yacht rock and other made up genres of music, by the guys who first coined the term, among others.

SH: Who has been one of the most influential people in your artistic development? Have they shared any advice with you other artists can apply to their work or journey?
SL: Oh jeez, I know I’m supposed to name a teacher or a mentor or something, and then fill everybody in on the most profound thing they ever said, which still resonates with me years later. But I don’t have a figure like that in my life, or at least not exactly. For a brief time in college, I became very good friends with a guy who was a couple years older than me and who had, unlike me at the time, lived a little. He had seen some things. Truthfully, he wasn’t exactly a great artist, but he was an extremely smart guy, and he told me a bunch of things I’m still unpacking years later. His name was Chris Ostoj, and unfortunately, he died young, which is sadly the way a lot of the most important people go. He used to look at my paintings and tell me, very seriously, to “Be more punk rock.” At the time, I’ll admit I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but it certainly seemed pretty bad ass, so I wrote it on my studio wall and repeated it to myself every now and again. After a while, I think I got it. And then I kind of stopped getting it. But hey, do with it what you will.

A little later on in my life, when I first started painting astronauts, I met my wife. She was my girlfriend at the time, of course, which is how that works, usually. She had studied illustration in school, while I had studied fine arts. Those two things are taught very differently, as it turns out. She looked at what I was doing, which involved essentially zero prep work and zero research and zero patience and 100% fucking around, and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was stupid. And she was right. I learned to stop wasting time and get fucking serious about things.

Later still I met my friend Wes. It was at a time when I was making paintings of astronauts largely to throw in the back of a closet or perhaps to hang exclusively in my own home. Let’s just say that there was not exactly a lot of demand for my work back then. I was working a day job and it was hard to carve out the time to keep making paintings that almost nobody cared about. Every artist reaches this point, some many times, where they start thinking about hanging it up. Is it worth the time and the effort? Do I still like doing this enough to keep plugging away at it, even though it might never lead anywhere? I was at that point. My friend Wes would come over to my house, get kinda drunk, blunder into my studio, and proceed to tell me that he thought my paintings were better than the ones he had seen in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He was wrong of course, and when he’d get into VERY DRUNK territory he had trouble pronouncing “Hermitage.” But at a time in my life that I needed someone to believe in my art, he was there.

SH: In the few paintings we’ve seen so far, the astronaut doesn’t seem to be as isolated as previous works. Was this a conscious choice or only our perception?
SL: Well, there are certainly more people in these paintings, although they mostly appear in the form of large billboards with the faces of Madonna and Lionel Ritchie and Huey Lewis on them. I also included, I think for the first time, a secondary recurring character – the mysterious Lamborghini Countach which appears in a number of the paintings from this show. But you never see who’s driving the car, and it’s not clear if they’re somehow aligned with our protagonist, or just lingering maliciously in the background. These also all take place in a world that feels more artificial than my normal paintings. Pink and purple skies stripes raining down from above. I don’t know, but I actually feel like the astronaut might be even more isolated in these than my previous works.

SH: Who would you want to collaborate with, dead or alive? The person can be in any area of the arts; film, dance, music, etc.
SL: Wow, I can choose a dead person? Like, I’ll take dead Einstein? Oh wait, you said arts. Huh. To be honest, I don’t do a lot of collaborating, because I’m one of those creative loner types. When I do, on occasion, though, I prefer to work with someone I consider a peer. Because the work has to make sense together, right? And if I’m being honest, I would have trouble working with someone a lot more famous than me, or a lot more dead than me, or especially both. Like if I worked with zombie Picasso and the entire art world was super excited he had come back from the dead but then they were also all like “Uh, why is zombie Picasso working with this guy who paints astronauts? Was zombie Matisse available? Or living Jeff Koons at least?”

Anyhow, let’s go with Stanley Kubrick. Or Pharell. Can I say both? Wait, David Attenborough. Final answer.

SH: When not in the studio, what would an ideal day look like?
SL: I mean, I like to be in the studio and, like a lot of artists, I tend to get a bit itchy when I’m not. But I also like to travel, and seeing new things and places and people do inspire me, both personally and artistically. So I’d say, flying off to someplace warm, exploring a city I know only a little bit, and grabbing an ice cream cone with my wife. Or, you know, fighting ninjas. One or the other.

SH: What do you think the role of art / the artist is in society?
SL: Well, that’s a big question. I hate to be simplistic, but isn’t our role to make some art? Do people ask accountants “What do you think the role of accounting is in society?” What about baristas, or systems analysts, or Uber drivers? Actually, maybe they do. But I feel like artists, more so than most, are always questioning our place in the world. And why is that? Do we need to play a role in society, or can we just, you know, make some art? And who am I to explain in one or two really long run on sentences what role all the other artists in the world should be playing?

I’m just a guy who paints astronauts. Sometimes an astronaut with a cool car in the background. Sometimes an astronaut with like, oh shit, is that Hall and Oates? And sometimes an astronaut, and somebody looking at it stops for a moment, in the middle of everything else that is going on right now in their life, and maybe or maybe not there’s something in that painting that makes them think about the world we’re all living in together just a tiny bit different. And they feel a little more connected to something, or someone, or the things I’m saying, or trying to say, in my paintings resonates with them, in some small or large way. And maybe they think about buying it, and taking it home with them, to live with, forever and ever. Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they just smile. Or maybe they ignore it and scroll to the next thing in their Instagram feed. And hey, that’s fine. I’m just making some paintings of astronauts. I hope some people like them.

So yeah. I’m answering this question in the most roundabout way possible. Of course, we have a role to play. But I’m not the one who says what it is. That’s for each of us to figure out on our own.

SH: Kicking off the new year with an exhibition is a great way to start 2018! What are your artistic plans for the rest of the year?
SL: So I am very excited to be kicking off 2018 with a show of my work that feels to me like it’s pushing things forward a bit. It’s kind of dark in tone but exceptionally bright in color. It’s politically timely but set in the 80’s. Working on these paintings did feel like the next step for me, and I’m excited to see how it shapes my paintings coming up. I’m sure I’ll spend 2018 painting more astronauts. I’ll be doing a little something with Spoke in San Francisco in June, and a show with the very talented painter Josie Morway at Antler Gallery in Portland in the fall.