Somerville Artist Paints Spacey First Night Button

By Anna White-Nockleby

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Dec. 31, 2010

BOSTON, MA – Attendees at this year’s First Night Boston celebrations will all be wearing works of art – far-out, cosmic works of art, that is.

(Courtesy First Night Boston)

That’s because their buttons – the traditional admission ticket to all of the events during the annual alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebrations – will feature the image of an astronaut painted by Somerville artist Scott Listfield. Listfield follows a long list of local artists whose work has been elevated by First Night exposure, including the Boston multimedia artist Ekua Holmes (2010) and Mike Ritter, a photographer from Dorchester (2008).

At first, Listfield was surprised that First Night contacted him. “Kind of stupidly, I suggested some more artists they should look at.” Later he found out he was to be the only artist, and his astronaut would be on the button.

Donuts, 2010. (Courtesy Scott Listfield.)

Listfield thinks he’s a fitting emblem for First Night. “The astronaut as an icon is very much about thinking about the future, ” Listfield told WGBH’s Callie Crossley, “but also reflecting on the past, which is not something people spend a lot of time doing -- except on New Year’s.”

The astronaut is a motif in a series Listfield’s paintings, which show it roaming a modern landscape and observing mundane and fantastical elements of daily life.

He says the paintings are meant to explore the contrast between how we imagine our future – and what it actually feels like.

“When I was a child, I watched lots of cartoons and movies about how we were supposed to grow up into this fantastic, future world in the year 2000 or 2011 where we’d be living on the moon and we’d have robot friends,” Listfield said. 

But the reality for Listfield hasn’t felt that futuristic, between riding the bus to work, working a full time job and executing the mundane activities of daily life.

In 1999, Listfield watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odysseyand decided to cast the astronaut as the central character in a new series of paintings. 

Pluto, 2009 (Courtesy Scott Listfield)

He places the astronaut in different settings peppered with cultural icons of his childhood, brands, and science fiction scenes. In one painting, the astronaut sits at the edge of an iceberg in a landscape that is pristine except for three tall signs in the distance advertising McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell; in another, the astronaut stands next to an industrial-style urinal and looks at his faceless reflection in the bathroom mirror.

The astronaut is the expressionless observer, as if he’s landed in an unfamiliar place and is discovering the environment for the first time.  “The blank visor (of the astronaut) allows him to be almost like an anthropologist,” said Listfield, who wants viewers to imagine his reaction.

And what would the astronaut’s reaction be to his likeness on everyone’s chest at First Night?

“I think he would really enjoy it, because the events that he attends tend toward the surreal,” Listfield said. “(For me) it will be very surreal to see people walking around wearing my artwork on their clothing.”

You can see more of Listfield's work at his website, astronautdinosaur.com.

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