Admiring the world from magazines, tv and pre-social media internet was enough for some in the early 2000’s. For Scott Listfield, not so.
In those formative college years, Scott Listfield spent a good chunk of time overseas. Inspired, presumably by the wonder of exploration, Scott painted his first astronaut because (he admits), he thought they were cool. Simple enough, but 15 years later, he’s built that wonder into a career’s worth of paintings. His artwork has been shown work in over 75 art shows. He’s appeared in several publications and won a handful of awards.
Watch as Scott brings his piece, “The City”, to life in this time-lapse:
How long did this piece take to create in real-time?
Oh, about a week. Give or take.
How does the presence of your astronaut impact the narratives you’re painting?
I’m going to go back in time for a second. In my last years of college (and shortly thereafter) I spent some time living abroad. I got kind of used to the feeling of ‘not being from around here.’ I had a funny accent. I didn’t get the local customs. I could never keep track of what the local currency was worth. And every time I left my apartment, it felt like exploring a place I had never been before, and quite possibly would never go again. But eventually the realities of life dictated I return home, and I expected that feeling to fade away. To my surprise, it didn’t.
I got an entry level job and an entry level apartment in an entry level city not far from where I grew up. Only I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was like an alien in my own home. Around this time I started thinking about making a series of paintings which I thought of as short stories about how strange I found the contemporary world. I was thinking a lot about exploration and alienation, and I knew I wanted a protagonist who would appear in each one. I guess I could have painted myself into each painting, which is something the college me would have done. But after traveling the world a bit, I didn’t want these paintings to be about me.
So around this time I watched the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. And, weirdly enough, it was right around the actual year 2001. And I started thinking about how, when I was growing up, I always assumed that in the 21st century I’d be living on the moon with my robot best friend and our matching jet packs. And instead I was in this crummy little apartment, eating Chips Ahoy, watching a VHS copy of a 30 year old movie. And it struck me, right then, in the middle of the movie, that it was the astronaut from the fictional 2001, the future I thought I’d get, that I wanted to appear in each of my paintings, exploring the strange, beautiful, and sometimes stupid world around me.
When did you realize an astronaut was going to be something you painted into every piece?
Well I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do a lot of. I felt like if you see one painting of an astronaut, you might say “OK. Sure.” But if you see a lot of them, if the character appears over and over, you naturally get the sense that this is some kind of continuing story, and then the paintings start telling you something. Or at least that was what I was hoping for when I started doing them, as a naive 23 year old.
At the time I thought it was a pretty keen idea but I had absolutely no idea I’d still be doing it more than 15 years later. It turns out the astronaut is a perfectly blank figure – the blackened face mask, the shiny reflective suit. It’s a perfect character to project whatever emotions you want onto it. I had no idea that’s what I was getting into when I started. I’ll admit, a good part of it was that I just thought astronauts were cool. I didn’t realize until much later all the potential meaning I could, hopefully, toss in there.
What success do you attribute to having a presence online?
I mean, all of it, probably. I was well on my way to a perfectly mediocre art career back in 2008, when the economy crashed, taking every single art gallery I had showed at with it. I spent a couple years frantically trying to flag down whoever was left, but there weren’t many places back then willing to take a chance on a guy who painted astronauts, to varying degrees of success, especially in a crappy economy. And so I turned to the internet. Things like Facebook, blogs, and smartphones were just starting to have a larger cultural impact at the time, and I made a conscious decision to get as many eyeballs on my work as I could. If not in real life then .jpg would have to do.
And so I slowly and steadily built a following. When Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram started, I got on there. When I first heard of Society6, I was all for it. I loved the idea of people being able to buy something of mine for $25. This might sound strange, but the art world can be very conservative sometimes. Some people at the time didn’t understand how selling affordable prints would ever help you sell a painting. But it always kept going back to that idea of getting people to look at my work. And soooooo many more people will see it online than will ever see it in person. And I’m ok with that. I love it when people buy prints of my work. I love it when people just leave nice comments on my Instagram. And it’s so great when I hear from people who have been buying my prints for a while and now want an original painting. Which now happens a lot. And it all goes back to building an audience for my work online, which frankly I started doing mostly by accident.
How do you balance fine art work w/ open edition works on Society6?
I don’t really see it as a balance, like over on that end of the teeter totter are paintings, and on the other end are prints. To me, they’re very much the same thing. I make paintings in my studio, and one way or another, most of them end up as prints in some fashion. They both become important parts of getting my work out there, and they are also both (obviously) essential to my income as an artist.
What’s something most people don’t know about you as it relates to your work?
I’m not sure if this is really any big secret or anything, but all of my works – each and everyone one of them – are oil paintings on canvas. Some people assume, at least at first, that they’re digital paintings, or photo collages, or I don’t know what. Some people ask if I use acrylic. Nope. They’re just good old fashioned oil paintings. Which doesn’t feel that strange to me, but I guess catches some people by surprise.
Any S6 artists you recommend following?
Oh, there’s a ton of great stuff on Society6. I love Helen Green‘s David Bowie prints. I gave one to my wife on her birthday. I’m a big fan of Filip Hodas, too, and Muxxi, Mr. Werewolf (aka Jakub Rozalski), Beeple, and Chris Piascik are all great too.