Scott Listfield paints a retro-futuristic Los Angeles under Big Brother’s eerily watchful eye
By Christina Campodonico
As a child, artist Scott Listfield dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Now he paints them.
Since 2001 (and yes, there is a connection to the Stanley Kubrick film about that fateful year), Listfield has placed his signature space-suited figure in a range of settings — from remote deserts where McDonald’s signs go to die to post-apocalyptic-looking urban landscapes. Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” deeply influenced Listfield in the early years of his career as he returned from living abroad and was looking to find his professional footing post-Dartmouth.
“I had grown up watching ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Jetsons’ and Transformers cartoons, and all manner of TV shows and movies which had all told me that the 21st century was the future,” Listfield told the online art publication ArtMaze Mag. “Instead, as a recent college graduate, I was taking the bus to work, washing my clothes at the laundromat and cooking single-serve pizzas on a hot plate. I realized that the fictional year 2001 in the movie was dramatically different from the actual 2001 I was living in. It occurred to me then that an astronaut was the character I had been looking for to put into my paintings.”
In Listfield’s latest series, featured at Thinkspace Gallery under the Orwellian title “1984,” his lone space explorer roams the streets of a retro-futuristic Los Angeles — a parallel universe, of sorts, that places signs of a sinister, autocratic dystopia amid cultural touchstones of the actual year.
In the painting “Careless Whisper,” the all-seeing eye of Big Brother towers over downtown Los Angeles as seen from just outside Griffith Park Observatory, where a surveillance camera tops billboards for George Michael and Polaroid.
In “Jump,” a DeLorean drives past the defunct Tower Records building on Sunset Boulevard under a Van Halen billboard and the same watchful eye.
The astronaut sees the Hollywood Sign replaced by the words “Big Brother” behind a Madonna billboard as helicopters patrol a hazy orange sky.
Fictional Artificial Intelligence character and glitchy New Coke spokesman Max Headroom makes an appearance underneath barbed wire on a freeway sound wall, and palm trees above what might be Venice Beach share the spotlight with Huey Lewis, surveillance cameras and that eye again.
From urban sprawl to desert freeways, the astronaut — and by extension the viewer — watches and is being watched in a place and time that feels both strange and familiar.
“I also find myself continually drawn to the mountains, deserts, and weird urban sprawl of the greater Los Angeles area,” explained Listfield to ArtMaze. “Maybe it’s because I grew up in Boston, but that part of the world seems so strange and captivating to me. People clinging to the side of steep mountains, with the desert spread out before them, driving DeLoreans down a hill to eat cheeseburgers. I couldn’t come up with something more surreal.”
With an oeuvre that encompasses jaunts through the stranger corners of time, space and Los Angeles, there’s plenty to contemplate in Listfield’s “1984.”
“1984” is on view through Jan. 27 at Thinkspace Gallery, 6009 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Call (310) 558-3375 or visit thinkspaceprojects.com for more information.