Scott Listfield's curious astronaut has become a regular feature on Creative Boom. Often wandering an apocalyptic Earth with a few hints at what possibly went wrong, this time the American artist is focusing on Australia – a country that is facing its own environmental challenges.
"So much of the Australian continent is made up of deserts and coasts, both of which feel so extremely fragile and vulnerable right now," says Listfield. "The ozone is depleted, the sun is fierce, and the wonderful and unique animal population of Australia is endangered. The Great Barrier Reef, perhaps the greatest living structure in the world, might sadly vanish in my lifetime. And, well, there's Mad Max."
Aptly named Fury Road, Listfield's new series has just gone on show at Beinart Gallery in Melbourne – his first solo show in a country that, in fact, sparked his ongoing theme, as he explains: "I spent most of my college years in a small town in New Hampshire. Three days after graduation I hopped a plane to Sydney, Australia, in part because it was as far away from my small college town as I could reasonably get. Although it also happened to be where my dad was working at the time, which was convenient. But I really did want to go very far away, where I had never been, and I did so without much of a plan for what would come next."
Listfield adds: "I ended up spending a lot of my time in Australia wandering alone in an unfamiliar city, country, and continent, where I barely knew a soul. I explored. I took some classes. I took a very long bus trip to Melbourne. I painted a few exceedingly mediocre landscapes. I was 21 years old and had no idea what the next chapter in my life might look like. It was a brief and strange pause between childhood and adulthood that I knew would not last long.
"Eventually, I returned home. But I still felt like an explorer. A stranger in my own home town. I wanted to capture that feeling of wandering alone in a place I had never been before and possibly would never come back to. Of feeling lost and lonely but also excited and optimistic. Of being an alien amongst things that feel somewhat hauntingly familiar. I've been painting astronauts now for a while but those feelings still inspire me today."
For this first solo show in Australia, Listfield wanted to say something about the country where he lost himself before he did eventually find himself. "I wanted to make paintings about a very wild and beautiful country while admitting upfront to being an outsider. Like the astronaut in my work, I'm not from there," he adds.
Anyone who is familiar with Listfield's work knows that he also likes to think about movies and pop culture and how it's shaped the way we think of the future and our place in it. "When I started thinking about the paintings I wanted to make for this show, I kept circling back to Fury Road," says Listfield. "The Mad Max series does a frightful but weirdly beautiful job portraying a future where we let our love of fuel outpace our love for nature and our most basic humanity."
He continues: "I'm an American, so maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it also seems very Australian. I would imagine that a country where most of the population lives on the fertile outposts of a mostly desert land feels deeply the fragility of their situation. I would also imagine that a country very famously originated by convicts and exiles might have a deep-rooted fear of what darker portions of their past might re-surface should the environment or civilisation break down."