From the oil industry boom to the glamour of Hollywood, Los Angeles has long been branded as a paradise—a desert oasis promising the American Dream to bootstrapping individuals. A native of the storied and sun-drenched city, painter Jessica Taylor Bellamy is no stranger to this mythology. As a millennial woman with an Afro-Cuban father and mother of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, Jessica seeks to deconstruct such idealist narratives in her work, exploring the political, social, and ecological implications of this promise of paradise. Using recurring motifs from freeway signage to the palm tree—an imported plant that has paradoxically become an icon of LA—Jessica both critically and lovingly examines the California landscape, ultimately proposing that we reimagine our relationship to the environment and the social structures that strain it.
Jessica holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Southern California, where she is currently working towards her MFA. She exhibits her work regularly in Los Angeles, and has completed commercial projects with brands including Kenneth Cole and Google.
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Tell us about who you are and what you do. What’s your background?
I am an artist living and working in Los Angeles, California. Currently, I am pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the USC Roski School of Art and Design and will graduate in May 2022. My background is very mixed, my father is an Afro-Cuban refugee who immigrated with his family to Los Angeles in the 1960s, and my mother’s family is of Eastern European, Russian, and Ashkenazi Jewish descent who also have an intertwined history in Los Angeles.
I grew up loving the act of making—my mom was always making sure I had access to see people crafting in all sorts of ways. I took any opportunity I could get to create but did not take formal oil painting classes until I was an undergraduate and minored in painting.
What does your work aim to say? What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
My work explores the tension of living at the edge of a tenuous paradise. For instance, “fire followers”—the lush plants that thrive after a fire sweeps through an area—make an appearance in my recent painting Breaking the Dormancy (Fire Poppy), which also recorded a fire’s devastating march in real-time. I did a bunch of etching marks into the bottom panel of the painting for how many fires burned one thousand acres during the time I worked on this and by the time I finished, I think it was close to one hundred marks.
Can you walk us through your process for creating work from beginning to end?
The first step is researching and collecting visual information and organizing it in a framework that makes sense to me. For example, over the last year I have been collecting the moon phases from the paper which also lists the sunset and sunrise time.
Then I sit with the information readily visible in my studio while I am working on other projects. Sitting with that information means making copies of it, scanning it, enlarging, cutting it out, and manipulating until I’m ready to “sprint.”
“Sprinting” is fun because suddenly there are multiple ideas of how to create work from one source: I start sketching these ideas in their most basic forms and get more complex, adding sources, thinking colors and compositions, and sometimes going so far only to pull back. Once I have a few options from my sprinting, I get to work on the actual piece or series, eventually painting and mediating the information from life through layers on paint and transformation.
How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
I am trying to link humans to our built environment and our shared struggle with the natural world. I am thinking about how we can get to another version of the present and how we operate within this system. I have been using plants and the poppy as symbols for resilience and the ability to exist in two different worlds as well as the use of light in a built environment.
Art because there is no single language or concrete message art can communicate. It is often outside the limits of linear association and can be interpreted differently depending on time, culture and especially, with painting, once the work exists it can exist in the world without me.
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