Wander ‘round the Weird World of Tomorrow as an Astronaut

Firefighter, film star, singer, footballer, … astronaut! Typically, all of us had a childhood dream of being a famous and heroic personality, adored by the entire world. Even though this hasn’t become reality for most of us, these dreams still live inside of us, sometimes showing themselves in nostalgic thoughts. For painter Scott Listfield, his childhood dream has become a reality – though in an unusual way.

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Scott uses his childhood aspiration of becoming an astronaut in his paintings. He repeatedly repositions his faceless character in futuristic scenarios that draw on the relationship of human’s idyllic imagination of tomorrow and the sobering version it turns out to be in reality. Scott adds further character to his works with David Attenborough documentary-inspired exotic animals, and another one of his childhood fascinations: dinosaurs.

Enjoy a funny but also reflective interview with Scott, who talks about everything from Saturn explorations to his cookie-gobbling dog.

THE PLUS: As a start, did you want to become an astronaut as a kid?
Scott Listfield:
Sure! The very first thing I remember wanting to be when I grew up was an astronaut. Of course, it didn’t take me too long to realise that “getting sick on entry level carnival rides” was not just a phase I was going to grow out of. So, I abandoned my aspirations of space travel at a fairly young age. But now I paint them which is basically the same thing, right?

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TP: We’ll agree to that! Tell us about the connection between you and astronauts.
I spent most of my childhood watching TV and movies which all told me that the 21st century would be super futuristic and that I’d probably end up living on the moon with my robot best friend. Needless to say, my actual adulthood, especially the early parts, were considerably less glamorous and filled with space adventures. After four years in college in a relatively remote part of the US, followed by some time spent traveling, I felt a bit out of sorts in my environment.

TP: Why?
The future I was living in didn’t feel like the one I thought I’d get, but it was weird and strange to me in surprising ways. I found myself thinking about how I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, and everything that represented. I started painting astronauts into these scenes about how unusual the contemporary world around me seemed. And now, many years later, I’m still doing it.

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TP: Who is inside that spacesuit?
All of us. … OK, I admit that was a super lame answer. But really, I want the people who look at my paintings to be able to easily imagine themselves in the astronaut suit, wandering around, looking at weird or mundane crap, and wondering about their place in the world. It’s harder to do that if I announce publicly that it’s actually Dwayne The Rock Johnson in the space suit, right?

TP: He probably wouldn’t fit… If you had the opportunity, where in space would you go – and why?
Well since I get car sick pretty easily, I’m not sure space travel is in my future. But assuming that at some point it becomes a bit less physically taxing, I’d love to visit Saturn. It seems like it would be the most spectacular planet to see in person.

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TP: Referring to your alias, how do dinosaurs and astronauts fit together?
They’re both things I really liked when I was five years old. When I first started out, I was making paintings of astronauts and the occasional dinosaur, but I was also toting around a large plastic T-Rex named “Dinosaur” because my wife and I are really brilliant when it comes to names. I took pictures of it everywhere we travelled and it became a bit of a thing for a while when I first put up my website.

TP: Where did it go?
Over the years I’ve grown tired of bringing a large plastic dinosaur everywhere I go, so that part has quietly faded away. But I’ve gotten more serious about the painting thing. And I still will, once in a blue moon, make a dinosaur painting. I mean, why not?

TP: What is your idea behind implementing dinosaurs or – mostly exotic – animals?
I’ve found myself feeling very detached from nature lately. I watch a lot of David Attenborough specials, which are all fantastic, and I grow quite attached to the ring-tailed lemur or the large ground sloth, but then I realize that I haven’t left my house in four days and the only natural creature I’ve seen is my dog, who is wearing a T-shirt and eating cookies that I dropped on the floor.

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TP: So these documentations are not the real thing to you?
I think the relationship I have with the natural world is almost entirely virtual, and in one direction. Giraffes don’t know me at all, but I feel like I know them. So, I wanted to paint about this weird relationship I have with nature. I think dinosaurs are even more emblematic of that type of thing. How well do you know what a triceratops looks like?

TP: Hardly, to be honest.
You’ll find them on billboards or skateboarding in animated commercials for Dorito’s or something. But these were giant creatures that went extinct millions of years ago and, in truth, we don’t know much about them at all. That disconnect is really strange to me.

TP: How about the geometric elements you feature?
After years of trying to be as realistic as possible in my work, I’ve lately enjoyed throwing some very weird and unrealistic elements in there. I like the geometric designs in particular because it gives a landscape, which otherwise feels fairly familiar, an odd, alien vibe. Which is an unsurprising thing for me to like.

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TP: Your scenes are often abandoned, they convey a sense of anarchy. What fascinates you about this idea?
I make paintings about what we think the future will look like, and how that has weirdly informed what the future actually ends up being. Movies and shows about the future are mostly either very sci-fi or very apocalyptic. I’m interested in both of those avenues, but we do always seem to be standing right on the edge of doing something to make a better future for ourselves and our children, or just generating even more garbage. I’m curious to make paintings that show the end result of all those garbage decisions.

TP: You have also created some murals. How did this arise?
Well, somebody offered me a wall to paint and I unwisely said “sure.” I do really like the idea of making paintings that live out in the real world, and although the thought of painting that large still terrifies me, it’s been fun to slowly dip my toes into it. I recently completed my third mural, and this was the first one that I felt even a little bit like I knew what I was doing. I hope that bodes well if I do another.

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TP: What do you like about painting murals, and how does it differ from your usual working style?
They are huge, which is difficult and physically demanding. I’m normally an oil painter, but I use house paint for murals, which is not an ideal medium for trying to paint things that look like actual things. Often, murals are outside where the wind and sun and rain and nature and no bathrooms can all be annoying.

TP: Sounds like it’s more demanding than enjoyable…
Well, I do like the end result. There is something tremendously rewarding about a piece of artwork the size of a wall. And I like having work that is out in the real world, as opposed to locked away in galleries where only a select group of people ever go. I’ve only done three of them so far, so I’m still a novice. But I’m hoping to do more of them and reduce the learning curve a bit more so that they eventually are as comfortable for me as making a studio painting.

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